Could you tell me what is the opposite of the phrase pay under the table? For example:

The company pays their employees under the table.

Would it be natural to say pay over the table?

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    In an awful lot of cases, it would be most natural to not bother specifying that the employees are being lawfully employed. ("I drank three cups of non-poisoned coffee yesterday.") It sounds like you've already identified that this is a case where you need to specify; just wanted to mention it in case it helps others.
    – A C
    Commented May 13, 2021 at 23:26

6 Answers 6


There isn't a standard way of describing the method of payment, though I have seen "over the table" used occasionally. The best way of describing this situation is to say that the employees are on the books. According the the Cambridge Dictionary, this means that the employees are

officially employed by a company, or an official member of an organization, society, sports team, etc.:

The implication is that all payments to the employees are recorded in the correct manner.

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    "On the books" is a standard way of describing it, since "off the books" is another way of saying "under the table". Commented May 11, 2021 at 21:22
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    @JohnDoe Someone who's paying on the books may still be trying to cheat people in other ways (they are not aboveboard)...and someone who's paying under the table may still be aboveboard with their employees (paying the employees fairly, but cheating on taxes). Commented May 11, 2021 at 21:22
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    I like the example sentence for on the books in the Cambridge Dictionary: There are 256 people on the books at the cement works. Commented May 12, 2021 at 3:16
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    I'm surprised there's controversy here. "On the books" encompasses paying someone. If you pay someone "under the table", it means you're paying them but you're not putting it in your accounting records, i.e. "on the books". Aboveboard is a good answer and a fun expression and could certainly be used here, but this answer couldn't be more precisely opposite while still being delightfully colloquial.
    – Henry74
    Commented May 12, 2021 at 23:15
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    @JohnDoe Yeah, that's what I mean. Above board adds to the scenario, since it means "nothing untoward". Whereas on the books just means not under the table, and doesn't say anything about other working conditions, etc. Commented May 13, 2021 at 11:16

A word that means the opposite of under the table and uses the same metaphor is aboveboard:
American Heritage Dictionary

adv. & adj. Without deceit or trickery; straightforward.
[Originally a gambling term referring to the fact that a gambler whose hands were above the board or gaming table could not engage in trickery, such as changing cards, below the table.]

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    Above board is exactly the antonym to "under the table". This really should be the accepted answer.
    – CCTO
    Commented May 11, 2021 at 18:23
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    Above board is a bit more broad than under the table. It just means "legitimate, honest, and open" — so it contains the opposite of under the table, but also more. E.g., paying someone openly (i.e., not under the table) but fudging your payroll tax would not be above board. Commented May 12, 2021 at 2:04
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    Used in a sentence: e.g. "All payments to employees are completely above board" (directly exchanging "under the table" for "above board" in the original sentence would sound unnatural to me, although I'd understand the meaning)
    – Steve
    Commented May 12, 2021 at 8:01
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    Just want to mention that above board is completely natural, and would be seen more often then on the books in my part of the USA. Commented May 13, 2021 at 4:01
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    "Board is a direct synonym for "Table". Paying "Bed and Board" means you get your accommodation and your meals in the price. Commented May 13, 2021 at 15:53

I would know what you meant if you said "pay over the table", but I've never heard it said before. I would say that someone was "paid legally" or "paid legitimately" if I needed to express this.


Simply saying "taxed" might be useful in some cases.

For example, "Is this under the table?" "No, its taxed."


It might be understood especially if contrasted with pay under the table informally, but there is no need for that because, in most contexts, the verb pay independently implies an honest and legal exchange.

I don't think it's common. You can use publicly, officially, law-abidingly instead to stress the legitimate nature of the payment.


If we can understand the context as being in the United States, I would say:

The company pays their employees through W-2.


The company has W-2 employees.

Grammatically, this is wrong. But this is how people say it orally.

A more boring wording that is reserved for policies and compliance documents could be:

The company reports employee earnings using IRS Form W-2.

  • 1
    Actually, those sentences are not grammatically wrong - at worst, the first one is using a zero-article construction in the sense that W-2 is a proper noun. Same structure as "the company pays their employees through YouTube and Venmo" (note the zero articles). The second one is correct, it just uses "W-2 employees" as a compound noun where W-2 is the type of employee being paid. Just as it would be for "the company has helpdesk employees": helpdesk employees are a type of employee that the company employs!
    – user45266
    Commented May 13, 2021 at 6:02

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