I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what?

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TA_Lurker
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I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what?

Post by TA_Lurker »

I accidentally found my coworkers 2013 tax return in a shared folder on the company network. It was in a subfolder named with her initials but surrounded by client documents. Many of us have initialed subfolders on this drive but we (or at least I) do not keep personal documents there, only client files. The company provides a separate network drive to each employee for personal use that's locked down to just that person and the usual IT suspects. I do not work in IT. I have two questions:

1) What's the best way to approach my coworker about what I found? Her tax return does not belong on that drive and could be found by others. I would like to alert her to this potential breach of her privacy. She and I have a very good relationship, but the very first page, which was all that I saw, was her W-2, so I now know much more about her than she may feel comfortable with.

2) Now that I know what she makes I am not a happy camper. :oops: :annoyed How do I get over this?

I should preface this by saying I'm not the guy who negotiated his salary. At the time the economy was still in the dumps, "you should feel lucky you even have a job" was the zeitgeist, the offer was more money than I was making, and I had grown to hate my previous employer. Almost three years later I've consistently seen my responsibilities expand, I fit in very well with the culture which I know is valued at my small firm, and I had a title added to my name, all for which I've received zero extra dollars compensation. Compare this with my coworker who is the stereotypical bad employee - she barely knows how to use the system (a few months in I was teaching her things), can always be found in the breakroom, and generally is not well respected. And she makes almost 18% more than I do. My role is higher than hers on the org chart. I'm in an "essential employee" role, she is a middling to poor admin.

Rationally I know her salary greatly exceeds mine because she's put in 20+ years and the company is generous with annual raises. But emotionally I'm having a hard time reconciling that versus the obvious difference in our individual value to the firm. This isn't just about a bruise to my ego. I also feel guilty about potentially leaving money on the table. I'm in my early 30s with thoughts of settling down, starting a family, and providing for one or more indigent parents. Compensation is a zero sum game. Every penny I leave on the table today is a penny+ (thank you compound interest! :D ) that isn't available to provide for someone in the future.

I guess this part is several questions. Is envy getting the better of me? Should I be more grateful for what I have? Or do I have a legitimate concern about my compensation? If so, how does that get resolved?
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by jaj2276 »

It seems obvious that your concern is with #2 and not #1. If you found her W-2 and made more than her, I doubt you would have made the post here. You likely would have already sent her a note (or sent the note to a group of people including her) saying that personal documents shouldn't be kept on the shared drive (even maybe making up a story saying how you yourself left a tax return on your share that you realized others could see).

So let's just focus on #2. You should be *happy* that she makes more than you. Might you be envious? Of course, why wouldn't you want to be making what she's making? But if she is making more money than you, then that means YOU can make more money too!

Let's say you could somehow broach the subject about your and your coworker's pay with your manager (or whomever sets the salaries). A valid response could be for them to lower her salary! If that happens, now you've created a problem for someone (they have less salary) and now it's likely YOU won't get more because you are in-line with your peers. All that so you can stop feeling envious?

Throughout my 16 year career, I've come to know the compensation of some of my colleagues (some through outright discussion, some through documents carelessly left lying at the printer, etc.). Many of them made more than me. I was envious of all those who made more than me. I *loved* that they made more than me because I knew I hadn't yet hit a compensation ceiling and I had informational leverage that I could use when it came time to try and increase my compensation.
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by jmg229 »

Let me preface this with the fact that I work in a situation where all salaries are published to a public website, so my feelings on this may be a bit different than others' on the board.

1. I think it is worth trying to let her know that this personal information is where it shouldn't be, but could see why you would want to avoid discussing it with her. I might consider dropping a hint to IT or a supervisor about noticing personal info on some shared drives by accident and mentioning that a "be careful about putting personal info on shared drives" reminder might be useful. I know that in my workplace, this sort of thing would end in a quick all-staff reminder that might key this person in.

2. I would try to get over what she is paid, as hard as that may be, and use it as knowledge with which to go in and negotiate a raise on behalf of yourself. Not that you should go in and say "I know ____ is paid $X, I demand more", but as an idea of what they are willing to spend to get a certain quality of work.
livesoft
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by livesoft »

You should already have left an anonymous note in her mailbox.

Or you could hire someone else to tell her, like this firm: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P14bWf52op8 start at 1:30
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Dutch
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by Dutch »

Do not tell her anything.

Do ask for a raise.
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by Carlton »

If your salary meets your needs and is in the ballpark of being fair, who cares what she makes? I bet there are others that make less than and more than you in the same company for the same job. That's the reality of exempt employees who don't have a collective bargaining agreement. In my unionized world, all the folks in the same title get the same hourly rate, but you can bet some deserve more and some less.

As previously mentioned, I would ignore her mistake, and if you think you deserve more, ask for it. If you still want to be nice, get a throw away Yahoo email account and anonymously email her.
void
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by void »

I would not mention it to anybody else.

What I would do is re-assess my market value and ask for a raise if it was appropriate. If you have peers at other companies in similar roles, ask them what ballpark figures they make. If you are under-market and want to stay at the company, ask for a raise. I've done it before and got 20% more. We both (manager and myself) knew I could make that in the open market and the company was flexible enough to do it out-of-cycle.
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cfs
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by cfs »

Wow.

Accidentally?

Time for some soul searching.

I would never dare to look at any folder belonging to another person.

I will let others provide ideas to the best course of action.

Thanks for reading my note.
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TA_Lurker
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by TA_Lurker »

livesoft wrote:You should already have left an anonymous note in her mailbox.

Or you could hire someone else to tell her, like this firm: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P14bWf52op8 start at 1:30
I do like the anonymous note idea but I may need to get a friend to write it for me. I have atrocious handwriting and printing a note seems too impersonal. Thanks for the idea. 8-)
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by bengal22 »

I always had the philosophy that I only worried about what I earned versus what I considered my expectations. Comparing yourself to others on wages and many other aspects is a recipe for unhappiness. If you were previously satisfied with what you made, and are getting generous raises, then be happy and continue striving for advancement and work fulfillment. Don't worry about what others make(those with 20 years for example) and focus on how you are treated.

She needs to know that she has confidential info on a common share drive. Tell her.
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TA_Lurker
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by TA_Lurker »

cfs wrote:Wow.

Accidentally?

Time for some soul searching.

I would never dare to look at any folder belonging to another person.

I will let others provide ideas to the best course of action.

Thanks for reading my note.
All I can do is give my word that this document was on a drive designated for client files and surrounded by such files. It even had a generic name like "2013 tax documents". I work in finance and was trying to track down 2013 tax information for a client.
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TimeRunner
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by TimeRunner »

It's her folder - let her mismanage it herself.
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TA_Lurker
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by TA_Lurker »

cfs wrote:Wow.

Accidentally?

Time for some soul searching.
Did you miss the part where I said the folder was on a drive designated for client files? Or the other part where I said the company gives everyone private drives to store their private documents? None of my fantasy football documents are on the client file drive. They're on my private drive.

This was very obviously not a document I expected to find on the client drive.
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by midareff »

Dutch wrote:Do not tell her anything.

Do ask for a raise.

+1 and ... about the raise, be thankful that 20+ years with the company is worth something. She has paid her dues, you haven't.
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by moshe »

TA_Lurker wrote:
cfs wrote:Wow.

Accidentally?

Time for some soul searching.

I would never dare to look at any folder belonging to another person.

I will let others provide ideas to the best course of action.

Thanks for reading my note.
All I can do is give my word that this document was on a drive designated for client files and surrounded by such files. It even had a generic name like "2013 tax documents". I work in finance and was trying to track down 2013 tax information for a client.
In that case I would approach her directly. "As you know i work in the finance department and I was looking for some tax information on client X...and i noticed that you had your personal tax return in among the files and wanted you to know" She should thank you. You probably should skip the part that you looked up her salary :-)

IMHO to leave her a anonymous note might make it easier, depending on the size of your department, for her to identify who would have reason to look at that file in that folder in the first place.

~Moshe
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by livesoft »

You could delete the file, too.
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by ieee488 »

When is your next performance review? That may be a good time to discuss your salary.
Rather than now.
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123
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by 123 »

I agree with livesoft's recommendation to just delete the file. That way nobody knows anything except you and the issue goes away.

No awkward discussion, no suspicious note, and you can feel self-righteous that you did the best thing for all concerned. You're a hero.
Last edited by 123 on Fri Apr 04, 2014 7:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by moshe »

One more thought why you should NOT IMO leave an anonymous note. Many IT departments log file access for complaince reasons, especially financial data.

The anonymous note might be a catalyst for her to file a research request with your IT department and you might then find yourself in a much worse embarrassing position.

The more i think about it the more I absolutely would tell 1) my boss and 2) her ASAP.

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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by JW-Retired »

TA_Lurker wrote: I accidentally found my coworkers 2013 tax return in a shared folder on the company network. It was in a subfolder named with her initials but surrounded by client documents.
I'm wondering if she was doing her taxes at work on company time? ....but I would just forget about it. Tell no one about any of it and problem solved. (not a good start at that) :?

Seriously, if I were your coworker or boss, I would be most disturbed by your need to blab all about this all over the place.
JW
ps: I too like livesoft's idea of deleting the file.
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by tibbitts »

Regarding your issue with salary, the reality is that for many years, cost-of-living and merit increases were common - almost universal, every year. Basically it was pretty common to be better off and enjoy a higher standard of living every year. Your coworker was employed by your company through many of those years, and benefited from that and the power of compounding during that time. Now, it's not unusual to go for year after year with not even a cost-of-living "raise" (not that it's really a raise.) And in many jobs, rates have either stagnated or fallen. I've done (tech) contract work for many years, for example, and for what I do, the daily rates today are the same (nominally) as twenty-plus years ago. So, a huge hit when you consider inflation. But that's what happens where your services get repriced constantly; that's just how the market works sometimes. You don't work in that environment, but let's take a more typical employment situation, again in tech. I left a job about 25 years ago and was earning about $39k. There were negotiated pay raises annually that were generally cola-plus-a-little, plus merit raises possible as well. You do the math where that would make my pay today. A couple of years ago, the same organization was hiring for the same job at... less than $39k. So if there had been two of us doing that job, there'd be me at... whatever, I'm too lazy to do the math, say $85k (and yes, the classification would have allowed for that.) And the new guy would be doing the same work at $39k. So sometimes that's what you're up against. Now, if the organization gets in financial difficulties, and there are no union or other considerations, guess who's more likely to keep a job? Probably not the old guy making $85k.
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by edge »

I find the comment about paying dues to be pretty hilarious.
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by Ged »

I would keep my mouth shut about what I saw and where I saw it.

As far as salary goes I'd start looking for another job.
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by cfs »

TA_Lurker wrote:

All I can do is give my word that this document was on a drive designated for client files and surrounded by such files. It even had a generic name like "2013 tax documents". I work in finance and was trying to track down 2013 tax information for a client.
Thanks for the update. We have received plenty of recommendations here (where is Lady Geek).

This is NOT a recommendation, but some real life situations when finding documents saved in the wrong place. What we used to do (on a previous life, when I was the senior IT on several military commands) in cases of no security breach, was to notify the person directly (I used to call the person by phone) letting them know where the information was found, to go there immediately and save it to the appropriate drive or delete the document (my senior IT officer would delete the document, just as recommended by Lifesoft, but again, he was the senior IT officer), I always gave the person a chance to recover the misplaced document. When we had a security breach, then it was a different story.

We are humans, sometimes we believe that we saved a document to right drive and two or three days later when we look for it, oh my where did it go.

Thanks for reading this note.
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Carl53
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by Carl53 »

Decades ago, I came across a 1022 file that had virtually all employee data in it. Kept my mouth shut. It was there for better than five years. Quite enlightening!
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by livesoft »

Too much sinister thought going on here.

You could even use this to your advantage by talking to your supervisor: "I was looking for tax information and came across a W-2 on the public drive. I don't think it belongs there. What should I do?"

You can see where that might lead to an embarassing pay raise for you. :)
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by cfs »

livesoft wrote:
You can see where that might lead to an embarassing pay raise for you. :)
Now, that was funny!!!
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by holycow007 »

It is easy to tell but ignore the envy. It makes your life miserable
It however puts you in a better place for asking a raise more confidently.
I had to manage someone who made more than me and it was a concern to me.
My boss however made sure that eventually I get past that financially over a period of two years.
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by LadyGeek »

cfs wrote:
TA_Lurker wrote:

All I can do is give my word that this document was on a drive designated for client files and surrounded by such files. It even had a generic name like "2013 tax documents". I work in finance and was trying to track down 2013 tax information for a client.
Thanks for the update. We have received plenty of recommendations here (where is Lady Geek)...
Catching up.

I've seen this before, several times over. Basically you find "stuff" in a shared network drive that should not be visible to you. The bottom line is do nothing! The first thing that will happen is you will get asked: What were you doing in the first place that caused you to see this "stuff"? There is no good answer, as all of them will be wrong and get you in more trouble - even if you were totally innocent.

I've tripped across personal stuff, financials (which are highly protected), even manager guidance on how to give your employees a low performance rating and make them feel good about it (now that was a fun read...). If you feel the need to discuss this with someone, take your emotions home and vent on someone sympathetic. You'll get it out of your system and stay employed at the same time.
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market timer
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by market timer »

Rather than look at what coworkers make, who might earn high salaries for any number of reasons, I always ask myself what it would cost to replace me.
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by VictoriaF »

Interest in the salary and other information about one's colleagues is difficult to resist. Three years ago, this interest was exploited in a cyber attack on RSA. By RSA's own account:
In [i]Anatomy of an Attack[/i], RSA wrote:The attacker in this case sent two different phishing emails over a two-day period. The two emails were sent to two small groups of employees; you wouldn’t consider these users particularly high profile or high value targets. The email subject line read “2011 Recruitment Plan.”
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by pteam »

Start looking for a higher paying job that you can switch to
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by leonard »

People store a lot of "stuff" on drives. Ignore it - it's her problem if she wants to have that public.

Do reevaluate your worth to the company and either ask for a raise or put the resume out to see what your real worth is in the market.
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by jumpsalty »

midareff wrote:
Dutch wrote:Do not tell her anything.

Do ask for a raise.

+1 and ... about the raise, be thankful that 20+ years with the company is worth something. She has paid her dues, you haven't.
People who work in non-union/government type jobs don't have that kind of mind-set. It has nothing to do with "dues" as it does with performance and negotiation power. He should still keep it to himself and ask for a raise or quit and find a job that pays more, since it's difficult to get a large raise without getting a counter-offer or promotion.
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by Fallible »

TA_Lurker wrote:I accidentally found my coworkers 2013 tax return in a shared folder on the company network. I... I have two questions:

1) What's the best way to approach my coworker about what I found? Her tax return does not belong on that drive and could be found by others. I would like to alert her to this potential breach of her privacy. She and I have a very good relationship, but the very first page, which was all that I saw, was her W-2, so I now know much more about her than she may feel comfortable with.

2) Now that I know what she makes I am not a happy camper. :oops: :annoyed How do I get over this?

...
First, if you feel you have to notify her, perhaps you could find a way to do so anonymously, saying only that the return might be seen accidentally by others. Second, use the information in a proactive way that could boost your own salary. Whatever, the two issues are separate.
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by livesoft »

I wonder if one had found out that they had much higher compensation than their colleague, then what would one do? :) :)
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by scubadiver »

Regarding the fact that your co-worker is storing personal files on a shared folder -> Not your problem. Mind your own business and move on.

Regarding the fact that your co-worker makes substantially more than you -> If my math is correct, your co-worker literally has at least twice as much work experience, correct? That being the case, why are you surprised that your co-worker makes more? Is the additional pay necessarily commensurate with the value the additional years of experience brings? Probably not, but that in and of itself is not a grave injustice.

The only action you need to take is learning what constitutes a competitive salary for someone in your profession in your region with your credentials.
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by georgewall42 »

The solution to problem #2 is to update your resume and go out and find a new job at the higher salary. When your employer asks why you're leaving, tell them that you spent so many years there without any increase in salary, and it's now time to move on to a higher paying position.

For #1, best do nothing. Companies have some strange policies sometimes about obtaining information that you were not supposed to have; sometimes you are considered to be at fault no matter how you got the information. Just be careful not to make the same mistake yourself.
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by ClevrChico »

Someone is doing their taxes at work. Kind of tacky. :-)
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by Random Musings »

With respect to finding the file ..... Do nothing.

With respect to your dismay about the salary situation...... That is an opportunity to be able to do something.

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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by joelly »

Dutch wrote:Do not tell her anything.

Do ask for a raise.
I second this.

Same thing happened to me last year. I asked for raise after 3 mos contemplating it. Wasn't easy but I was prepared to leave and I told my boss that. After a month, he gave it to me.

Good luck!
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by ccieemeritus »

I found part of a coworkers tax return on the printer just a few days ago. I know I've accidentally printed stuff at work myself when I was at home.

I just read the top of the tax return to see whose it was. I returned it to them without looking at the numbers. If they weren't immediately available I would have put it in the confidential recycle bin.

People leave private stuff around all the time. It's still wrong to read it. It's correct to let them know so they can protect their data.

You'd want them to do the same for you. You're not perfect either.
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by tibbitts »

jumpsalty wrote:
midareff wrote:
Dutch wrote:Do not tell her anything.

Do ask for a raise.

+1 and ... about the raise, be thankful that 20+ years with the company is worth something. She has paid her dues, you haven't.
People who work in non-union/government type jobs don't have that kind of mind-set. It has nothing to do with "dues" as it does with performance and negotiation power. He should still keep it to himself and ask for a raise or quit and find a job that pays more, since it's difficult to get a large raise without getting a counter-offer or promotion.
I've worked for employers both inside and outside of government, and large organizations of either type are likely to have situations like this occur occasionally. It's not a matter of mind-set, it's just a side-effect of changing technologies and economic times. Even today, very few large organization do "resets" for existing employees' salaries, where those salaries are adjusted downward for market conditions. The company probably paid market rate when it hired that person 20 years ago, and it's going to pay market rate when it hires someone now. But it isn't going to require an existing employee with acceptable performance to have "negotiating power" to maintain a salary level they've reached, except during particularly difficult financial times.
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by harrychan »

As some has stated, do NOT leave an anonymous note. She may feel violated despite the file being on a shared drive. She can then ask IT to see who accessed her file and you will be the one needing to explain yourself. I honestly don't think it would be a big issue to email her and send her a snapshot of the location of the file, delete it or simply ignore it.

As for the salary, I am in a slightly similar situation as you were I am a senior manager in my company in my mid 30's. I regularly work with people who are 10-15 years my senior. I have never came across their tax forms or pay stubs but I know for a fact they make much more than I do. In your situation, I would actually pity the coworker as she is much more older than you but only make 18% more than you. Now you know where you gauge yourself and be driven to move to a new role. Never be content and stay hungry.
This is not legal or certified financial advice but you know that already.
J295
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by J295 »

Is envy getting the better of me? Should I be more grateful for what I have? Or do I have a legitimate concern about my compensation? If so, how does that get resolved?
You may consider sitting silently with these and related questions for some time every day for a week or two, say 15- 30 minutes per day, and see what is revealed to you.

Kind regards.
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Aptenodytes
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by Aptenodytes »

Good grief. Forget about it and move on. If she's put in 20 years more than you and earns only 18% more, and your company rewards longevity, you are ahead of her, not the other way around. The obsession you are feeding will be your undoing if you aren't careful. Starve it, don't feed it.

Who knows, 20 years from now you may appreciate having an employer that rewards longevity and doesn't automatically fire people if they are less productive than they were in their 30s.
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abuss368
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by abuss368 »

Send out a company wide email.
John C. Bogle: “Simplicity is the master key to financial success."
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by KyleAAA »

jumpsalty wrote:
midareff wrote:
Dutch wrote:Do not tell her anything.

Do ask for a raise.

+1 and ... about the raise, be thankful that 20+ years with the company is worth something. She has paid her dues, you haven't.
People who work in non-union/government type jobs don't have that kind of mind-set. It has nothing to do with "dues" as it does with performance and negotiation power. He should still keep it to himself and ask for a raise or quit and find a job that pays more, since it's difficult to get a large raise without getting a counter-offer or promotion.
Agreed. Tenure and having "paid your dues" should have nothing to do with salary. To do otherwise is inherently unjust. If you can do the job better than her and have the negotiation chops to back it up, you deserve more money.

That said, it's unlikely the company is going to reduce this person's salary after 20 years even though it may be above the market rate. I've seen situations where good employees take a voluntary demotion but get to keep the higher salary. Nobody complains because they don't want to risk losing a good employee.
MathWizard
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by MathWizard »

Don't mention it to her or anyone else in the company.

It's her mistake, it's not your responsibility, and anything you do would be suspect.

You have 3 years with the company. You could adress what you think is a salary not in sync with
your new responsibilities at the next performance review, or you could
give your name/resume to a recruiter.
RobInCT
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Re: I accidentally discovered a coworkers salary... now what

Post by RobInCT »

If you only saw her W-2, you don't know that she makes more than you do. You know, at best, that in 2013 she received more money from the company that the federal government classified as "wages, tips, and other comp" than you did. For all you know, she got a 20-year longevity bonus, worked overtime, won a prize, received a non-cash benefit not excludable from total income, or a dozen other things.

I don't think a glance at someone's W-2 that lasted only long enough for you to realize you were looking at something you shouldn't be--at which point I'm sure you immediately closed the document--provides you with enough information to determine you're being treated unfairly.
Last edited by RobInCT on Sat Apr 05, 2014 9:05 am, edited 1 time in total.
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