Pay Dirt

My Co-Worker Is Getting Seriously Underpaid. Do I Tell Her?

She works extra jobs to supplement her pay.

Teacher at the front of a classroom wearing a mask.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by gpointstudio/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Athena and Elizabeth here(It’s anonymous!)

Dear Pay Dirt,

I work at a small, private school in the Midwest. The pay is terrible, but our class sizes are small, the students are wonderful, and most of us enjoy our jobs. Due to our low pay, we have trouble hiring new teachers to fill vacancies. I recently found out that our administration is paying new hires MORE than veteran teachers to fill open positions.

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I don’t care that much because I am part-time and my husband makes enough that I don’t have to work, but I am outraged for my amazing colleague. Like sick to my stomach mad. I recently found out that a new hire with ZERO teaching experience is making $5,000 more than this incredible, dependable, brilliant teacher. She works extra jobs to supplement her pay so she can afford IVF treatments.

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How do I help her get paid what she is worth? Do I tell her what I have discovered? Do I keep my mouth shut so she doesn’t get too stressed while trying to get pregnant? Please help me help her.

—Ready to Put My School on Blast

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Dear Ready to Put My School on Blast,

I think it’s perfectly ethical to inform your colleague that she’s underpaid.* Any stress she might get from that information is probably offset by potentially higher earnings, which may allow her to forego the extra jobs. Under the National Labor Relations Act, your right to communicate with other employees about wages at your workplace is protected.

Keep in mind, though, that this is not your fight. What your colleague chooses to do with that information is her decision, so you want to make sure that your justifiable outrage at the situation doesn’t put undue pressure on her to negotiate her salary if she doesn’t want to do that.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

My husband and I rent the same cabin for a week each year. My sister has said she would like to come up with us next year. We’re fine with this; we travel well together and she’s come with us in the past. Next year, however, her new husband will join us, and although we enjoy him well enough, he’s a huge cheapskate. For example, they come over or we go out for meals multiple times a month together. We treat often, and although my sister will treat us back occasionally, he has given us money exactly twice in three years of this.

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The cabin we rent has enough space for them, so it won’t cost us any more to host them. We also rent a small boat for the week we are there; we would rent it either way. I know my sister would never rent one on her own but she will certainly go on the boat whenever we take it out.

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My question is: Do I ask them to pay anything for the cabin (or the boat)? Our husbands make about the same money; she makes half of what I do but we both make good salaries so financially it’s not a stretch for any of us. I’m inclined to ask for a portion toward the cabin given that she invited herself, but I can’t tell if I’m just being cheap in response to her husband’s historical cheapness. Help!

—All I Want Is a Stress-Free Vacation

Dear All I Want Is a Stress-Free Vacation,

I think if you haven’t asked your sister to cover part of the costs in the past, it may be a little awkward to ask for it now. It seems like you mostly just want her cheap husband to start paying his share, which means paying his portion of any other expenses you’d incur outside of what you’d normally spend anyway.

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Either way, this is why God made Venmo. Tell your sister ahead of time that you’d like to handle splitting expenses via Venmo (or another app that allows you to request payment, like Zelle or Cash App), and then she and her husband know to expect that they will need to cover some of their own expenses. Then you can send them a request for whatever they owe, and you won’t be leaving it to them to estimate (or in her husband’s case, underestimate) their portion. Splitting food, drinks, and money for any excursions you might take are reasonable requests.

I would not assume, however, that this teaches your brother-in-law anything about being cheap, and being cheap in response will not do that, either. It is reasonable to ask them to cover some of the costs of the trip, though. If the costs don’t really matter to you, you may be risking some tension with your sister, just to retaliate against her husband’s cheapness, and I doubt that’s worth the money. So while it’s not wrong to ask them to cover their share, you should think about your own motivations and what you believe the outcome will be.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

I’m a lawyer in a small firm. My boss recently informed me that he wants to transition me to partner, which is obviously great. I have no idea how this works, though. He wants me to propose a percentage of the business that I think is fair, and I don’t even know where to start. How do I negotiate this? What are the pitfalls, if any? What do I do?

—Lost Lawyer

Dear Lost Lawyer,

As a non-lawyer, this one’s a little out of my wheelhouse, so I asked my friend and ex-colleague David Lat, a former lawyer who writes the Original Jurisdiction newsletter about law and the legal profession, to weigh in:

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 “Law firm partnerships come in many shapes and sizes, so it’s difficult to answer this question without knowing more. What type of law does the firm practice? How many partners, associates, and other lawyers are there? What do the historical financials for the firm look like? How does the firm currently generate business, in terms of which lawyers bring in how much? How are partners currently compensated based on the business they generate and the business they serve? Are you expected to ‘buy in,’ i.e., make a capital contribution to the firm?” 

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The big picture aspect of this is that you’re going from being an employee to being an owner of the firm, which comes with upside and risk. You won’t have a guaranteed income, but you may end up making exponentially more than you make as an employee.

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“One approach might be to try and come up with an arrangement that would give you similar compensation to what you earn now,” Lat says, “but with upward adjustments to account for your moving into the partnership ranks, your assumption of greater risk, and your having to pay for your own benefits.”

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He also suggests that you ask your boss to make the first offer, which will give you an idea of what your boss thinks the financial prospects are. But beware of the downside of partnership, which is that leaving is not as simple as giving two weeks’ notice as an employee and your career is much more tied up in the firm. Lat points out that when Dewey & LeBoeuf went bankrupt ten years ago, some of the younger partners who had borrowed from banks for their “buy-ins,” wound up with nothing except for the bank loans they still had to pay off. As Lat puts it: “You don’t want to wind up in their shoes.”

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Dear Pay Dirt,

My daughter has been nothing short of a narcissist since marrying. I have helped her financially as well as physically (babysitting her children whom I love but gave up work to do it without pay). There are so many things I could say but the gist of it is I don’t want to leave her my house when I die. That’s how bad it’s gotten. She has three kids—what do you recommend? Should I leave the house or something to my grandchildren?

—I Want My Jerry Springer Daughter Out of My Will

Dear I Want My Daughter Out,

Since you’re not very specific about it, I’m not sure what you mean when you say your daughter has become a narcissist. If you’re having some conflict with her, the first step is to talk to her about it, and if she has truly exhibited bad behavior toward you, then hold her accountable for it. But if you just think she’s being self-absorbed, consider that you may not know everything that’s going on with her. And especially if her children are very young, she may just be overwhelmed.

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At any rate, you seem to want to punish her for her behavior after you die, and that’s not exactly mature behavior, either. It’s your money and your house, and you are absolutely free to do what you want with it. But withholding something you’d normally pass on to her as some kind of revenge for whatever it is you believe she’s doing that’s unacceptable, is a bit cowardly—especially if you’re not planning on telling her about it, and letting her find out after you’re gone.

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So, first of all, you should try to repair the relationship, and tell your daughter how you feel—for the sake of your grandchildren, if nothing else. Your relationship with your daughter affects them, too. And if you need to set boundaries with your daughter because she is treating you badly, then do it, but holding her inheritance over her head is not going to change her personality or orientation toward you. It will just create more resentment. I doubt that is what you really want. Once you’ve done that, then you can think about the specifics of your will with a clear mind.

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—Elizabeth

More Advice From Slate

Early this past summer, my precocious 11-year-old daughter and I were downtown when she pointed out two teachers from her school walking hand in hand. She said that these two had always seemed particularly close but she hadn’t realized that they were dating. School started a few weeks ago, and she has both of them as teachers this year. On the first day, the male teacher shared with the class that he lives with his wife, three young children, and a menagerie of pets, while the female teacher explained that she lives alone with her two cats—much to my daughter’s shock.

Correction, Aug. 4, 2022: An earlier version of this article misstated that certain companies can fire their employees for sharing salary information.

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