Two managers were socializing outside of work. Yes, alcohol was involved. Manager one said to Manager Two: Hey, I know what you make. Manager one then quoted – to the penny – what Manager Two’s salary was. Manager One said that he had seen the information in an offer letter on the HR Manager’s desk (that’s me). Manager two then said: OK, so now that you know my salary, I want to know your salary. Manager One then disclosed his salary amount.
There are obviously a couple issues here, but the plot thickens. It turns out that Manager One makes quite a bit more than Manager Two, even though their positions are somewhat equal. (There are major wage equity issues here that I am battling). Manager Two is devastated, and has done an amazing job of turning his department around and building his team. This really took the wind out of his sales.
My issue is with Manager One. While I am at fault for leaving something confidential on my desk, I have a huge issue with Manager One disclosing this. Managers are exposed to confidential, sensitive information all the time, so the expectation is that he keeps his mouth shut. This is also covered very clearly in our policies. If he disclosed this after a couple drinks, what else is he saying?
When Manager Two disclosed this to me, he stated that he was asking for advice and simply wanted to vent. As an HR professional, I am well aware that there are some topics that employees CAN NOT ask me to keep confidential, and I believe this is potentially one of them. However, since it took place outside of work, are we in a position to talk with and potentially discipline Manager One?
I’ll start my reprimanding with you–bad of you to keep confidential info in a place where others could see it. But, you know that.
Then I’ll reprimand the company for having pay inequities. Now, I’m somewhat of a radical when it comes to pay. Hold on to your horses, but I don’t think pay should be confidential.
Let the ranting begin. Let me state my case. I’ve been in HR a long time and in every HR position I’ve ever held–including when I was a temp admin–I’ve had access to everyone’s salary. And I mean everyone’s salary. CEOs and co-workers included. It’s always been part of my job. At first it’s fascinating. Now? Not so much.
And that’s part of why I’m opposed to secrecy. None of this would have mattered if your company was open about such things. (I know of no companies (government jobs excepted) that are open about such things–I am, as I said, an HR extremist. I wonder if that’s like extreme sports: Up Next, Evil HR Lady in the Extreme Compensation Policy competition!)
But the real reason I’m opposed to secrecy is because secrecy allows pay inequities like the one you are dealing with now. Just think–if everyone’s salaries were open managers would never hire people at unfair levels or offer big bumps to people they *like* but who hadn’t earned the increase.
I realize there are whining problems with this and it takes a lot of guts to have people know that their co-worker with the same title makes more money than they do, but that just means that the company truly needs to pay for performance. Rational people understand that. Irrational people, you don’t want working for you.
But, now to your situation (clearly, I just hijacked my own blog!). Can you “punish” manager one for something he did outside of work? Sure! Do you want to go there? No. I don’t. But, what I would recommend is this:
HR: So, Manager 1, I understand you had a talk with Manager 2 about salaries. Just couldn’t keep quiet about how yours is so much better, right?
Manager 1: So what? (If he’s defensive, that is. If he realizes he was a drunk idiot, he’ll hang his head and apologize.)
HR: Yeah, so it was a pretty stupid thing to do. I’m not sure this company can trust people who make stupid decisions, inside or outside of work.
And then I’d end the conversation. If you are respected and valued enough it will freak him out just a little bit.
As for confidentiality, you’re neither a priest nor a lawyer. Some things you are required by law to act on, but stupid managers who reveal salary information is not one of them. (In my non-lawyer, non-legal advice way. Entertainment, people, this blog is pure entertainment. In fact, did I tell you my favorite joke. It goes like this: There was a snake named Nate…)
I would also bust my buns to deal with the salary inequities, starting with Manager 2. You say he’s turned his group around. You better make sure he’s rewarded for it, or you are going to lose him. You may already lose him. I can guarantee if I was manager 2, I would have come home and started working on my resume. I’ve just been told that my company doesn’t value me. I’d expect the burden is on the company to prove otherwise.