My boss revealed everyone's salary


(MoneyWatch) Dear Evil HR Lady,

I work for a large travel company, but am in a department of 11 people doing the same thing. We got a new supervisor, and her first correspondence to us was SUPPOSED to be about our new shifts, and the "shift differential" (extra money for those who got stuck with weekend hours, etc). Instead of emailing each individual's own information, she accidentally sent the whole spreadsheet to each person in the department.

Basically, we've all seen each other naked now. We all do the same job. There is a $20,000 annual difference in salaries between the lowest and the highest paid. I fall about fifth from the bottom, but the three lowest-paid people are "interns" who came in with no experience and who are not expected to be top producers.

Within a few minutes of the email being sent, one of my coworkers ran to the supervisor and told her what she had done, and of course she was surprised and tried re-calling the email. However, more than half the department had already seen all the numbers, and the gossip started immediately.

What can I do -- do I have any recourse? I'm no HR expert, but it seems to me someone needs to find a way to make this better. How can we perform as a team when this confidential information has been exposed and many people on the team are bitter and resentful (as in, why should I help you when you make six dollars per hour more than I do)? And how can we go on calling this woman our supervisor after such gross negligence that left us all so exposed? I will use it as a tool to re-negotiate my salary, as I now see I am under-compensated. I am a top producer with zero errors, and yet I am at the bottom of the range.

I cannot believe this woman wasn't fired. Yes, it was an accident. I know she didn't do it on purpose. But this is gross negligence that has left such a trail of gossip and bitterness team spirit destroyed in one email. I do not want her to be my supervisor, nor do I want her to know my salary because she has proven to be completely untrustworthy with our private information. Please, any suggestions you could offer would be greatly appreciated.

You are really angry, and you should be -- but your anger is misplaced. Your new supervisor made a mistake in sending out everyone's salaries. But because she is new, I can guarantee she didn't decide on your salaries. Your previous boss did. So, yes, you should be angry, but not at her. You should be angry with your old supervisor.

In fact, you should be thanking your lucky stars that the new supervisor did this. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if she subconsciously did it on purpose. If I got a new job and on day one found out that there was a huge disparity in pay among workers doing the same job, it would be top of my priority list to fix that. And I would act as a thorn in my boss's side until it was fixed. Since the problem is a longstanding and expensive one, no one is going to be excited about fixing it. By revealing the discrepancies, she's just brought the issue front and center, and HR and the big bosses cannot ignore it anyone more.

By sharing everyone's salaries, she's given you the power and the tools to fix the problem. HR can't smile sweetly and say, "You're making the market rate, dear!" because you've got hard evidence that you're being underpaid. And you should use this information to negotiate a new salary, as should all of your coworkers. And your boss? She has plausible deniability. It was a mistake.

You're angry because you're embarrassed that your salary is low. Not because your "privacy" was violated. If she'd sent out your medical records, or notes from a conversation about your  marital problems because they were affecting your work, then that would be a privacy violation and you'd be justifiably angry. But this anger is coming from the unfairness of the whole thing. Yes, you should have negotiated better when you were hired, but because of the information asymmetry in hiring, the company was able to low-ball you. Lesson learned -- always negotiate.

This is precisely why I advocate more openness in pay in the workplace. If you had been aware of what other people in your group were earning when you negotiated your salary, your present salary would likely be more fair. Everyone shouldn't be paid an identical salary because performance and skills are not identical, but salaries should be justifiable and logical.

So forgive your supervisor for her mistake. Accidentally attaching a file in an email shouldn't be a fireable offense. Use the new information to get a higher salary. And if you have to be angry, be angry at the previous supervisor who allowed this to go on.

Good luck with your salary negotiations.

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    Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate Human Resources. She's hired, fired, and analyzed the numbers for several major companies. She founded the Carnival of HR, a bi-weekly gathering of HR blogs, and her writings have been used in HR certification and management training courses across the country.