A reader writes:
I am wondering how to go about asking for retro pay and debating whether or not it’s fair of me to ask. I love my job and have recently returned from maternity leave, but I’ve taken on more responsibilities, including another complete position (to cover another’ s maternity leave!) on top of my original duties.
Some history: while on maternity leave, I came back on a casual basis to help out. My pay was increased and was temporarily put on an hourly wage. I was also told the number the raise would equal as a monthly salary (without asking). However, three days before I started back full time, I was told that the raise itself had been temporary, he was not willing to pay $X amount to me in the near future and it was my fault for not clarifying. I was to start back at my old pay, but there was a possibility of a raise in a few months after he saw how I handled my new duties.
I am managing to cover everything rather well, and my days are consistently busy, which I enjoy. However the time has come for us to have our one-on-one meeting about my raise. I have been told by my co-workers that I should have no problem getting my raise (though not as high as $X). But now I’m debating asking for retro pay as I have done so much extra on top of my previous list of duties. I believe I have the right to ask and that it would be fair of him to pay me retroactively, but I don’t want to jeopardize my position.
I want to make a career out of this place but I don’t want to be treated unfairly. Yes I know, unfair = life but I think that if he didn’t, how would I have job security if he is willing to be so unfair in the first place?
Ask for a raise, by all means, but retro pay? It doesn’t work that way. You agreed to work for a particular rate of pay, and until you mutually agree to change it, that’s the rate of pay you’ve been working for.
Imagine if you hired someone at $X/hour and after a month of work he told you that he’d decided his work was worth more and he wanted you to go back and retroactively pay him more than what you’d agreed to. Or, alternately, imagine that you yourself had been working for $X for a few months and then your boss told you he’d decided it would be more fair to pay you less than that, and he wanted to retroactively lower your pay. You’d probably think both of these situations are unfair — but what you’re suggesting is no different.
You work for the rate you agreed to, and you can’t try to change it retroactively after the fact.
It does sound like there was some miscommunication somewhere about the increased pay when you were doing some work on maternity leave — but from what you’re written here, it sounds pretty plausible that your boss never agreed to make that increase a permanent change. In fact, there’s nothing here that says that he told you it would extend beyond that period; you clearly assumed that it would, but it sounds like you may have made that assumption on your own. It doesn’t actually sound like your boss did anything unfair here.
You say that you love your job and want to make a career there. If that’s the case, the last thing you should be doing is making unreasonable demands like this. Not only will your boss almost certainly say no, but you’ll come across as someone who doesn’t get how this stuff works, doesn’t honor agreements, and is willing to cry unfairness when there’s nothing unfair there. If I were your boss, I’d want to keep you at a real distance after that.
If you want a long-term happy future there, you need to play by the rules you agreed to.