How to Deal

If Your Boss Thinks You Make Too Much Money

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By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, July 11, 2007; 4:12 PM

I have worked for the same nonprofit for almost three years. My annual review will be in early August. In my annual review last August, my supervisor, who had only been in that position for about six months, was positive and complimentary about my work and had little constructive criticism.

Toward the end of the review, she noted my salary and commented (paraphrased) "Oh my, that's almost what I make -- that just won't do." Following the review, I received a small cost of living increase of 3 percent, whereas I had received a sizeable increase the year before from a supervisor who had observed my work for the full year.

I recently spoke with one of my colleagues and they said that what she said was illegal. Is this true? If so, I don't really want to do anything since it's been so long but I want to be more informed for my review this year as to the parameters of what can and cannot be said or done by a supervisor in an annual review.

I have been in the employee relations field for a long time and I have heard of people doing many inappropriate things, but this is definitely a new one. If this incident is representative of your supervisor's approach to other workplace matters, I truly feel for you.

Your supervisor appears to be missing a critical filter between her thoughts and speech. And certainly her decision to give you a lower pay increase than the previous year -- if truly based solely upon her own salary -- is questionable. Yet, unless she singled you out for a lower pay increase because of your race, ethnicity, age, sex or other protected category, I am unable to think of a basis on which what she said or did is illegal.

It is not unusual for organizations to establish salary ranges or caps. Once an employee reaches the cap for his or her job, the reasoning goes, she will receive adjustments only for cost of living or changes in the market for that position. Employers who do this are seeking to establish some parity in their pay scales and conserve money without the risk of losing valuable talent to another company willing to pay more.

Some employers -- although not very many outside of the government -- actually reveal the salary ranges for their jobs, which can help employees trying to sort out their best path for advancement in the organization or wondering how their compensation might stack up against that of their peers.

I would hardly characterize what your supervisor did in such reasonable terms. And you have every right to be offended and angry. My point is just that the law does not protect against this.

This does not mean that you are powerless, and you are wise to think ahead about your approach to this year's review. Rather than waiting to hear what your supervisor has to say about your performance, evaluate yourself. Then schedule a meeting with your supervisor to provide her with your self-appraisal and your corresponding suggestion for a pay increase. Make sure that you emphasize specific accomplishments, if possible including their monetary value to the organization.

You will thereby ensure that your supervisor is fully informed regarding your performance when the time comes for your annual appraisal. Of course, there is no guarantee that she will be fair, especially if her working assumption is that you should be making less than her. If you are disappointed by your pay increase again this year, tell her so, and ask her for her rationale.

If she sticks with her 2006 story, you should consider appealing the issue to her supervisor or to your human resources department.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail lilymgarcia@gmail.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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