My friend is facing the following problem:

Her boss left the computer open and she then looked at his screen, where the salary of a coworker at her level (who since has left the company) was displayed. As his salary was considerably higher than hers; she was shocked and told a coworker about it, and also to her boss who left the his computer open. In a preemptive strike he reported it to the management but says that she went through his email, essentially accessing his computer without consent.

Now human resources has written her an email, asking her to answer some questions next week. Her answers would then lead to a decision whether disciplinary actions would follow.

The questions are:

  • How did you find out about the salary?
  • Who did you share the information with?
  • Why did you think it is ok to discuss this with the colleagues you discussed it with?
  • What you expect to gain from discussing third-party salaries with colleagues

It is hardly illegal to look at somebody's screen. But is there an obligation not to disclose that information to colleagues? She is working for a company in the UK.

  • I don't know much about UK employment law, but I'd consider whether the best response might be another question: why did you think it was okay to pay a man at my level "quite a lot more" than me? – phoog Sep 30 '18 at 16:26
  • No matter what remember that: HR might be upset, but bad press from wage discrimination may be more upsetting, and negotiate with this in mind. – A. K. Sep 30 '18 at 18:25

You cannot disclose information that came to you in circumstances where it was given in confidence.

If salary data is confidential within the organisation and you have been made aware that it is then you can’t disclose it to third parties even if you come by the knowledge inadvertently. However, it is highly unlikely that you were ever told that the salary data of other employees was confidential information - just because your company doesn’t publish them doesn’t make them confidential.

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