Bob Goldman

It's a basic law of the workplace. Your co-workers will rattle off their darkest secrets, freely share their innermost feelings and even brag about their sex lives, but when it comes to revealing salaries, mum's the word. 

It's easy to see why salaries are not part of the discussion. If another person is paid more than you, he or she will have to live with your jealousy and envy. If another person is paid less than you, you will have to live with their jealousy and envy, not to mention the fear that the boss has been grooming a lower-cost, harder-working person to replace you.

In fact, the only time when people are anxious to divulge what they get paid on their job is when they are applying for a new job. That's when salary figures tend to appreciate sharply. This brings us to a second basic law of the workplace -- you always tell a potential new employer that you make more money, so that they will have to pay you even more, more money.

It's dishonest, I know, but everyone does it. How else do you think I could have negotiated the $4.37 and cents I get every week for writing this column? 

As clueless as they are, employers have finally caught on to this salary scam. Or if they always knew that our resumes inflated our salary, as well as our capabilities, they never bothered to do anything about it until recently. Now, with the job market cratering and the applicant pool growing ever more desperate, employers who are feeling frisky can ask for your social media passwords, the number of your Cayman Island bank account, and most devilish and devious of all, a copy of your most recent W-2.

You know what a W2 is, of course. It's the tax document you receive before tax time, detailing what your employer paid you. You might want to dig out your last W-2; it's that crumpled-up slip at the bottom of your wastepaper basket. Yes, the paper is soggy. Remember how you cried and cried when it showed up in the mail?

If you haven't studied a W2 recently -- or if you haven't seen a W2 recently -- it's easy to find the relevant data. That itsy-bitsy, teeny-tiny number at the top -- that's your salary. The big number next to it -- that's your taxes. All those empty boxes -- that's where your company lists the value of the benefits you receive. That's why those boxes are empty. 

Bob Goldman

Bob Goldman is a business humor writer.

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