Ask the Flounce: How Do I Negotiate to Make Sure I Receive Equal Pay to a Male Coworker?

We’ve created an advice column so that you can ask our varied group of intelligent, supportive contributors for advice on the issues that affect you personally. When we don’t have all the answers, we’ll provide you with resources. We encourage you to provide your own responses in the comments section (or tell us we’re wrong).

The answers and content in this column are for information/entertainment purposes only, and do not constitute legal, medical, or professional advice.

Write to to submit a question. Advice seekers will remain anonymous when a question is reviewed by the contributors.


The company I work for is opening up two entry-level sales positions in my area, I will be obtaining one of the positions and a fellow associate (who is male) will be taking the other position. Since the positions are new, he and I will be on the ground floor, we will have the same title and will work together but be at separate offices. During a recent conversation he and I had about the new venture the subject of compensation came up. We didn’t talk numbers, just the package our boss discussed with us, and he was told he would be making a commission on his sales while I was told there wouldn’t be commission since it was a ‘new’ position. We were both confused that we were told two separate things; me especially because I have seniority, more managerial experience and the office I will be moving to brings in more revenue than his. No hard numbers have been discussed with either of us and we wouldn’t be starting the positions until the new year so details may change but if they don’t, how do I negotiate this? I am hard-pressed to believe this was a mere mistake.


First of all, the writer needs to get firm numbers. She needs to know this guy’s salary and his compensation plan (401k? commission? matching IRA? Type of insurance?). It could be that the male coworker is receiving a commission due to the fact he is not getting insurance or a 401k etc. So it is important to know if he is receiving the same benefits and pay as the writer before seeing HR. Once the writer establishes that the only difference is that in addition to what they are both getting the male coworker is also receiving commission, she can arrange a meeting with HR.

In that meeting she should list out the compensation plans she is receiving as well as the plan the new coworker is receiving and explain why she believes she should be receiving the same plan (if not a better one) including the experience and  the expectation that she will be bringing in more money. HR will most likely say they need some time to investigate etc. The writer should request a time frame, two to three weeks should be sufficient, especially since the job starts in January. The writer should follow up around week two and certainly by the deadline.

Ideally they will revisit your compensation and give you the same plan if not a better one. The most likely outcome is that they will explain why his package is different (he has to make 200k in sales before commission, or he has a 3 year contract vs your 1 year contract, whatever) and it is up to the letter writer to decide if the reason seem valid or if they are just BS. If she feels it is BS she can do a few things: 1) quit and find a new job 2) take the job 3) talk to a local lawyer about the possible violation of Federal Labor Laws/Equal Pay Act or 4) file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

As a side note, in order to prove damages for a lawsuit or the EEOC the writer will have to take the job and receive a paycheck in order for the damage to exist (if it is about commission only she may have to wait until commission is paid out). If she sees a lawyer she should expect them to take the lawsuit on contingency since her attorney fees are supposed to be paid by her employer if he violated labor laws. If the lawyer requests an hourly agreement, walk out the door and find another.

And for my own butt: The information provided in this answer is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. You should speak to a lawyer in your state.  — Lex

It appears as if one issue might be that your company has a policy against discussing wages/salary with coworkers. If so, the fact that you have not talked numbers, but instead are merely talking about the packages you were offered, may be an exception to that rule. And maybe it’s as simple as going in to discuss it with the boss and the coworker in that case.

I would suggest looking online first about your rights. It may be that in your situation, an employee’s right to discuss wages for the purpose of ensuring equity is protected by the National Labor Relations Act. The act protects worker’s rights to freely associate for “mutual aid.” (It does not cover public employees). It can be illegal for some employers to make pay secrecy a policy. –Rebecca

I guess I would probably ask my boss for a meeting, with your commissioned coworker in the room, and say “we just wanted to clear this up since both of us seem confused!”  (Bob, whatever his name is) was told he would be working on commission, but it was my understanding we wouldn’t be.  So I just wanted to clear this up, are we on commission or not?

I’d also do a shot before the meeting to calm down. I think you can’t ask your boss what the deal is without “Bob” present, otherwise you’re setting yourself up.  When asking Bob to attend the meeting, don’t set it up as anything that will “get the company in trouble” – men are terrified of that.  Just set it up like, “we’re both going to look terrible unless we get our confusion sorted out right now!”

If “Bob” refuses to meet with your boss, I’m a bit crazy, so I’d say, “no worries” then cc him anyway on an email to my boss asking the same thing.  It’s not classy, but who the hell cares when you’re facing discrimination in the workplace? –Firinn

I would definitely ask for a meeting with HR/hiring manager to discuss the matter and mention that your colleague was told he would be getting commission pay and that was not discussed with you. I would also take that time to renegotiate and mention the fact that you have more seniority and managerial skills than your colleague. Make sure once the job offer is made/renegotiated you get it in writing. (Also make personal notes of who you spoke with and what was said in case for some reason your colleague still gets commission and you don’t.)

If the meeting wasn’t possible then I would definitely go the email route and, of course,  save every email! –Kat

  • Disqus_Guest

    OP here, thanks for posting my question and the advice, this has helped. Here is some follow up:

    After we spoke to each other “Bob” and I agreed to stay on the same page and update each other if we hear any news. We haven’t heard anything new from our supervisor for a couple weeks now.

    My company does not have a policy in place restricting employees from disclosing their wages, I checked the handbook to be sure.

    Neither of us have received official numbers for compensation. When the new position was discussed with us (individually) it was in very general, fluid terms, but in my interview it was stated that I wouldn’t be getting commission. Once the job becomes more tangible then HR and recruiting will be more involved so I will have the opportunity to speak to them.

    I was able to get a roundabout number of what Bob makes now and we’re very close to each other so unless my company is going to offer me something in place of commission, I don’t see a reason why we are being told two different things. Unless it’s because I have a vagina.

    • Blahblee

      Thanks for the update. I’m hoping that having HR involved, it’ll be resolved and that it has nothing to do with vaginas, but you know … it would suck if you had to go to war with your employer over this, but you’d be doing it for the right reasons and it appears some people will have your back.