Why Being Able to Discuss Your Salary With Colleagues Matters

Why Being Able to Discuss Your Salary With Colleagues Matters

When it comes to working life, there are few topics people care as deeply about as salary. Negotiating an appropriate wage for the work you perform is one of the most important steps in starting a new job, and knowing that you’ve landed a fair salary – especially in comparison to your colleagues – is huge when it comes to satisfaction at work.

And although there has long been a lot of secrecy surrounding pay transparency and discussions about salary, as our pals at Refinery29 Australia have recently highlighted, more open conversations in this space have the potential to hugely improve work satisfaction for people. Because, in short, feeling valued by your employer is central to a positive working experience.

Most recently, the topic has been broached with the Australian public as a result of Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke’s plans to bring a new Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill into parliament.

Taking to Twitter on October 19, Burke shared that the new proposed bill would ban pay secrecy clauses in Australia.

Per reports from the ABC, the Albanese government intends to use this bill to help address the gender pay gap, with hopes it will help low-paid employees, women in particular, to negotiate fairer compensation for their work.

The ABC reports the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill is slated to be introduced to parliament on Thursday, October 27.

Prior to the news of plans to ban pay secrecy laws, the question of whether or not employees were allowed to discuss salaries was fairly common. Back in April 2022, we chatted with a Fair Work Ombudsman spokesperson to gain some insight into the realities of the situation.

Here’s what they had to say during that chat. Keep in mind that much of this is set to potentially change (obviously), but for the moment, the conditions remain valid.

Is it legal to discuss your salary with colleagues?

salary discuss

The first question that many of us ask in this area is whether or not you are legally permitted to talk about your salary with colleagues at work. The answer to that is, well… a little complicated.

“Generally, it’s legal for employees to discuss their salary with work colleagues,” the spokesperson shared.

“However, an employer may consider information about salaries confidential and take steps to protect it, for example by including a clause in an employee’s contract of employment that prevents the employee from discussing their salary.”

So, in short, check your work contract for any mentions of this – if is not included, you are in the clear, legally, to discuss pay.

What are your rights if you discover pay disparities between staff members doing the same work?

Here’s where things become a little icky. If in the process of discussing salaries with colleagues you discover staff members are being paid differently for the same work, it’s likely to cause an issue. On this, the Fair Work Ombudsman spokesperson explained that “employees may wish to speak to their employer to address any issues about pay. In our experience, having an open and respectful conversation as early as possible can often help to resolve workplace problems”.

If you’d like some additional information on resolving workplace issues, you can consult this website for more advice.

And if you’re feeling concerned about how your comments will be received, the spokesperson highlighted that it’s worth remembering that “employees have certain protections at work, including if they make a complaint or enquiry in relation to their employment”. That certainly extends to whether you’re voicing an issue regarding your salary.

“It’s unlawful to pay men and women differently for the same job based on their gender or sex. This best practice guide has information about gender pay equity. Among other matters, it states that the Fair Work Commission (the independent national workplace relations tribunal) can make an equal remuneration order, which requires certain employees be given equal remuneration for work of equal or comparable value.”

Can you be fired for talking about pay?

We’ve spoken about the legal aspect of discussing your salary at work, but how about an employer’s right to terminate your employment based on this move?

When asking Fair Work about the ins and outs of this, the spokesperson explained that much like the legal question, this is going to depend on your employment situation.

“Whether or not an employer can end an employee’s employment for discussing pay depends on the individual circumstances. For example, if an employee discusses salary in breach of their confidentiality obligations under their employment contract, their employer may be able to take disciplinary action against the employee, which could include ending their employment,” they explained.

In saying that, it’s not just a simple case of crime and punishment.

“Employers should make sure that they follow a fair process and have a valid reason for ending employment, or they may breach unfair dismissal or adverse action laws under the Fair Work Act,” the spokesperson continued.

“Employers should also consider seeking legal advice in these situations. General information about unfair dismissal is here and general protections matters involving dismissal is hereThe Fair Work Commission also deals with unfair dismissals and general protections matters involving dismissal.

In the end, what you’re able to do here greatly depends on what your contract says. Your first step here is to go in and have a read about what it allows you to do, and then if you’re able and comfortable, it’s well worth thinking about opening up and talking about your pay more openly – it may just help you or a colleague to better understand what your work is really worth.

Fair Work also pointed out that any workers with questions about their pay can reach out for information or advice online.

This article was originally published in April 2022 and updated with news regarding the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill.

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