Q: I joined a mid-sized law firm (not in London) as a salary partner a few months ago. I have just accidentally found out how much one of my colleagues earns: quite a lot less than I do, despite the fact that he has been with the firm for years and we're technically on the same level. I know - at least he's not earning lots more, right? But I feel bad about it anyway, because this person has really gone out of his way to be helpful and make me feel welcome. Should I tell him what I know?
Jeremy says: No. It's not often that I'm unhesitatingly certain about such questions but about this one I am. Rumours about salaries are notoriously unreliable, but I'm assuming you're absolutely sure about this? If not, forget it now.
There are all sorts of reasons for apparent anomalies in salary lists; some good, some bad, usually historical. You deserve praise for feeling uncomfortable about this one but you can't know why this colleague is paid less than you are. Think it through.
What would you gain from telling him what you know, other than a temporary salve to appease your conscience? It would certainly unsettle him - and saddle him with your problem. What could he be expected to do with this information? If he keeps it to himself, it will just churn away inside him, creating dissatisfaction where before there was none; and even, however illogically, tainting his relationship with you. If he takes it to the senior partners, he'll have to explain how he came by this knowledge. They could deny its accuracy; or, even worse, tell him bluntly that they valued your contribution more than his.
So no. If you feel the absolute need to do something, you should write a confidential note to the senior partners. Tell them that you came by this information accidentally; that there may well be reasons unknown to you for such a discrepancy; but you simply wanted to register your unease. Make it clear that you do not expect a response or any further involvement.
Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. Email him your problems at firstname.lastname@example.org. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into