My co-worker is a salary snoop

She looked at everyone's pay rate and told me I'm underpaid!

By Cary Tennis

Published April 8, 2011 12:20AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

While temporarily acting as our company's office manager, my co-worker, who is also a very close personal friend, used her temporary access to company files to snoop through every staff member's salary, including mine.

Now she's advising me to ask for more money at my upcoming review after confirming -- without my asking -- that I was being paid far less than other staff in my same position.

I am horrified on so many levels -- her lack of integrity, the invasion of privacy and potentially implicating me by telling me about how much more money people are making.

I have lost all respect for her but I'm unsure how to handle this. I'm reluctant to say anything to the company owner because it's clear they have no idea she snooped and regardless, she is a favorite at work.

I feel fairly certain that if I were to say anything to the owner it would only come back to me for not reporting it sooner -- or I would be responsible for getting her fired, which would be viewed by my co-workers as a bigger betrayal than what she did. Lastly, our personal friendship involves a large network of overlapping friendships (including my closest circle) and I think calling her out would be viewed as a declaration of war.

I have not said anything to anyone and the strain is taking a toll. Help!

Deserving a Raise

Dear Deserving a Raise,

Your friend is trying to help you. She may have gone about it in a strange way, but she is on your side.

It sounds like you place a high value on having an orderly workplace where rules are followed. You feel that your friend has shown disrespect for the rules, has done something outrageous, and has put you in an uncomfortable position.

So I get why you are upset. But I am puzzled by the intensity of your distress.

It doesn't sound like your friend broke any state or federal laws concerning insider trading, industrial espionage or fraud. She just peeked at some salary information.

I mean, I know it's not right to peek. But ... well, the important question is what are you going to do?

I think you should talk to your friend and confess to her how upset you are about what happened, but also tell her that you understand it isn't such a terrible thing that she did. Since she's your friend, just tell her that it really freaked you out and you don't understand why she did it but you're not going to do anything about it, and try to understand her point of view.

If possible, explore beliefs each of you has about what is your proper role in the company.

Company rules are not laws. You are not a citizen of the company you work for. You might get fired for not obeying the company rules, but company rules are not made by elected officials, nor are the processes by which they are made always sound.

My experience with working has been that we workers are on one side and owners are on the other. We may like each other and have the same general mission, but when it comes to money, we have different interests. Owners will do what they can to protect their interests, and that means keeping secrets from employees. Likewise, employees will seek to find out these things that employers keep secret.

To me, it just sounds like people in a free-market capitalist system trying to survive. I know there are rules, and norms of behavior, but this does not sound egregious.

So in your performance review, ask for more money. You can claim you found comparable salary information online, such as at, or on

Your friend is trying to help you. She may be breaking the rules, but she is on your side.

I'd love to say a lot more but I've been working on this all day, believe it or not, and tried to say all kinds of profound things about the state of American democracy and the last 30 years of political movement and that governor in Maine removing the workers' murals and I just got all heated up and out of control and had to bring it in by deadline, so I cut all that stuff out and tried to just give you my honest reaction and what I hope will be some useful advice so you can keep your friendship together and maybe improve your work life a little bit. Good luck.

Write your truth

What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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