Payroll: Who watches the watchers?
October 12, 2005 2:36 PM   Subscribe

Idle Corporate Question: Has anyone here worked in a Payroll department? I know that one of the great taboos in large corporations is that nobody else knows how much everyone else makes (subordinates excluded.) But, what about a Payroll department. Do they each know how much everyone else in their department makes? Or, is their own information segmented off somehow?
posted by vacapinta to Work & Money (14 answers total)
When I did payroll for my small company I knew how much everyone made, what deductions they took, etc. I'm pretty sure in big companies they know, too.
posted by dame at 2:46 PM on October 12, 2005

I used to work in payroll and at one time, everyone could see the salaries. Eventually, when they moved to a new computer system, they made the payroll department a different division and only the head admin has rights to view or make changes to the employees within.

I don't know how it is in other companies though.
posted by obeetaybee at 2:48 PM on October 12, 2005

I temped in the payroll dept for a big national realty company. At my company, payroll was divided by geographic regions and everyone was responsible for a different region. I did California. Since the office was located in Chicago I didn't have the opportunity to see what the other people made. However, if you get in tight with the other people in the payroll dept you could easily find out what other people made.
posted by nooneyouknow at 2:51 PM on October 12, 2005

Yes. Sorry for not being clearer. I know they can "see" everyone's salary normally. I was asking specifically how much they knew about the Payroll department itself. Is that information private? Is a typical Payroll worker only allowed to see a segment of the company. Can they see the compensation of the executive officers for example?

I mean in a company large enough where Payroll is a department consisting of at least a few people and a Payroll manager.

posted by vacapinta at 2:56 PM on October 12, 2005

I worked in a big company and had a friend who worked in IT for payroll. She had access to all salaries. At least, she told me she did. She could have been lying, but she wasn't really the type to try to impress you with such things. It was more idle curiousity. I knew she was telling the truth about some salaries because she gave me numbers and they corresponded to the amounts that my boss and some senior co-workers had complained about.
posted by acoutu at 3:19 PM on October 12, 2005

I knew someone in payroll at the Fortune 50 company. Her sub-department was "Corporate Special Payroll" (or CSP). They handled executive officers exclusively, in a completely different computer system. Even if you worked in normal payroll, you couldn't see what directors and above made.
posted by smackfu at 3:54 PM on October 12, 2005

I did some contract IT work in a payroll department of a mid-sized non-IT company (about 500 employees). At least in that place, every salaried employee in payroll had access to all salary history for everyone working there, including contract workers like myself.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:55 PM on October 12, 2005

I work in an HR department maintaining the HR system for a large (aprox 5,000) company.
Yes. Everyone on my team has access not only to employee information, but also to info on each other including but not limited to salary.
There is no getting around this. You just have to ensure that you hire the right type of person, and of course we are all aware that if we use our access for any purpose other than what we are supposed to it is grounds for immediate dismissal.
posted by TheFeatheredMullet at 5:32 PM on October 12, 2005

Assuming the company uses something like ADP for actual payment processing, the capability to restrict access to information is there but generally is not implemented. Especially not to protect the privacy of the payroll clerks. A more common situation is for VPs and the CEO to have restrictions on who may view their salary, but no restriction on the rank and file.

I wonder: why do you ask?
posted by McGuillicuddy at 5:56 PM on October 12, 2005

And if you're looking for inside information, make friends with the IT folks that take care of the HR machines. They probably don't spend time snooping around, but given a reason, they likely can do what needs to be done and cover their tracks too. Even if they can't access the payroll system, the HR Director probably keeps all the original offers and salary increases in Word documents in "My Documents".
posted by McGuillicuddy at 6:02 PM on October 12, 2005

And if you're looking for inside information, make friends with the IT folks that take care of the HR machines

Heh. Thanks. I'm not interested in snooping around. I'm involved peripherally in a large implementation and wanted to know what was typical in large companies. TheFeatheredMullet provided the answer I needed.
posted by vacapinta at 6:12 PM on October 12, 2005

If Payroll is responsible for cutting the checks, then of course Payroll knows what everyone makes. Without this information, it's simply impossible for them to do their jobs.

Outside of Payroll, it's inevitable that Budgeting will know what everyone makes, simply because, again, it's their job to forecast costs.

And, naturally, IT knows everything, because they're responsible for the database.

In my experience, all of these groups are aware of the sensitive nature of this information, and none have any particular interest in it beyond what it needed for them to do their jobs.
posted by SPrintF at 8:38 PM on October 12, 2005

Gads. It's odd to see that some people are bothered by this -- in the military, we all know what our fellow military members make; the pay chart is public knowledge.
posted by davidmsc at 4:06 AM on October 13, 2005

Gads. It's odd to see that some people are bothered by this -- in the military, we all know what our fellow military members make; the pay chart is public knowledge.

I've often thought its quite a sham that companies can have policies that forbid disclosing your own salary. I mean, what better way to hide, racism, sexism, age discrimination, harassment, etc . . . than to hide everyone's salaries from each other. Lets say that salaries were disclosed, and it became apparent that every woman made a few grand less a year than her male counterpart. It doesn't necessarily prove gender discrimination but it does make a strong case for investigation.

It would also force managers to justify their decisions; as well as give employees a clearer picture of what is expected of them. If John is making less that Tom, and Tom has only been there half the time, then manager Bob better explain to John its because Tom is twice as productive. But god forbid you ask management to justify their own actions.

What's worse, is most companies where employees are close (or not close, just been there long enough to be frank with each other) general you discuss your salaries with one another. And then when you find out there is a discrepancy where there shouldn't be one, there is no one to ask. So instead you sit and stew over it.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 8:41 PM on October 13, 2005

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