my employee asked for a 170% raise

A reader writes:

I am a new manager, and one of my reports has asked for a massive raise. He has good reasons for wanting a raise: his responsibilities have ended up being very different than what he was originally hired for, he’s been doing very well with them, and he’s definitely paid below market for what he’s ended up doing. We hired him at $15/hour for an entry-level position with no hard requirements, and based on some quick market research, I’d say the work he’s doing now is closer to a $20-$25 range, so I’m actually in favor of giving him a pretty substantial increase.

The trouble is that he’s asked for an increase to $40/hour, and he’s only been here for four months. That’s significantly more than I make, and I’m honestly kind of in shock that he thought this was reasonable to ask for. He says he did some market research, but that number hasn’t been supported by anything I’ve been able to find (though admittedly I want to do some more research here). Four months also seems like a short amount of time to me, but I don’t have enough experience to know if the significant change in duties would override that.

I want to advocate for my employee with my boss (who owns the company, has final say on financial decisions, and is very reluctant to spend money), but I am suspicious that bringing the employee’s $40/hour request to my boss will make my employee (and potentially me as well) look completely out of touch with reality. My boss is extremely hands-off — we’re all remote, and I talk to him maybe once every month or two for about ten minutes, so I don’t know him very well. I told my employee that $40/hour was significantly more than I make, and gently suggested that asking for a lower number might be a better idea, but he shrugged that off and said he isn’t set on that number, but sees it as a good “starting point.”

Any suggestions for how to approach this? Most of what I’ve been able to find about raise discussions have been from the employee’s point of view, which isn’t super helpful to me here.

(Note — the pandemic has not had a significant impact on our company due to the nature of our business.)

Typically it’s true that it would be odd and unrealistic to ask for a raise after only four months, but he’s not really asking for a raise in the standard terms — he’s saying the pay he agreed to was for a different job than the one he ended up in, and he’s asking to revisit his salary based on the fact that this is a different position. That’s reasonable, and an employer who ignores that will end up with a rightly demoralized employee who leaves as soon as they can.

But I’d want to know what he’s based his specific number on. If you’re right that the work he’s doing would typically pay $20-$25/hour, then my suspicion is that he (a) didn’t really do as much research as he said he did or (b) used salary websites in a way that didn’t account for the work he’s actually doing, in the field and geographic location he’s doing it in. If he just searched by broad job title, it’s very easy to get results that represent wildly different scopes of responsibility and experience.

The fact that he didn’t have a more concrete reply when you asked about it and instead said he thinks it’s a good “starting point” makes me think this is less about real research and more about obliviousness and/or bad negotiating advice. It’s worth asking if he can share his research with you, since it’s so different from what you yourself are seeing. If he wants to make a case for the market supporting a higher number, he should be willing to tell you why he thinks that.

All that aside, though, it sounds like you do need to pay him more — but your company needs to figure out itself how much his work is worth to you. Don’t start the conversation from the number he named; you don’t want a possibly really off-base figure anchoring the discussion. Instead, do your own research to figure out what makes sense for the market, his role, and your company’s salary structure, and go from there.

Once you’ve done that, talk to your boss. (Or if you think your boss would want a earlier heads-up, let him know now that you think the salary needs to be adjusted to reflect the evolved role, and you’re researching the market.) Then when you make the pitch to him, explain what research you’ve done and what salary you’re recommending.

Whether or not to also mention the number the employee requested depends on your sense of your boss and how he manages people. If I were him, I’d want to know about it — because I’d want to be aware that your employee’s expectations were potentially out of whack and that we might have a weird negotiation to deal with, and because it might signal that he’ll have some other odd expectations down the road (and I just like knowing significant stuff happening on teams I oversee, both in order to support you in managing well and also because you could leave at some point and I’d want to be aware of the history). But you might have a manager who wants you to handle those sorts of details yourself and just come to him with the upshot, or who would get so focused on the 170% that it would harm the whole process, or so forth. Let what you know about your boss be your guide — but if you’re not sure, I’d default to mentioning it as an FYI.

When you go back to your employee with a salary offer, let him know that you took his input seriously, what research you did, and how you settled on the number you’re offering. Say you know it’s lower than what he originally proposed (assuming it is), and why you think it’s fair. From there, it’s up to him.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 177 comments… read them below }

  1. Shramps*

    I can’t imagine only talking to the boss and CEO once every other month for ten minutes. You may want to improve that relationship, if possible.

    1. Clint*

      It might depend on the situation. Being a contractor to another bureaucratic institution, I talk to our Customer Support Rep and Boss level customer practically daily but my Boss who makes hiring/pay decisions I speak to maybe quarterly.

      1. Mama Bear*

        I had an on-site boss I reported to daily but our up the food chain manager who did things like hiring never spoke to me until I’d turned in my resignation. That said, it might not be a bad idea to talk to the boss a hair more often. It is easy to be forgotten when you are full-on remote.

    2. JM60*

      I can imagine it. I think how frequently, and for how long, you should have contact with your manager greatly varies on the type of work you’re doing. If you exclude email and DM’s on Slack, I’ve only had a single 1-1 with my boss since March, and I don’t think I need more frequent 1-1’s with her to be be effective in my particular engineering role.

      1. Helena1*

        Also depends on your seniority level – I am expected to be pretty much autonomous, and though I say hi to my actual line manager daily, I have only had three actual sit-down meetings with him since I started in November, because our roles don’t overlap at all.

        I speak to my peers, and the rest of the people on my projects, literally all the time though. So I assume if I was doing anything majorly wrong, it would feed back to him.

      2. Casey*

        Same here. I’m business systems support and outside of team conference calls, email, and skype, my last 1-1 with my manager was at the end of March. He doesn’t oversee my day-to-day closely so that’s how it shakes out. Seems totally possible to me.

  2. I edit everything*

    This is OT, but is anyone else having problems with the formatting on the site? The last couple days, when I’ve been on Chrome on my Windows laptop, the column and comments text has been enormous, and overlapping to the point of being unreadable. It’s fine on whatever the current MS browser is (Edge?), and fine on my iDevices.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Try clearing your cache. It was a temporary style sheet error yesterday but was quickly fixed — but your cache might be holding on to it. If that doesn’t fix it, please email me! (I may not see a reply here.)

      1. Feline*

        A shift-F5 to force a full reload of the page might help. I find that fixes many caching issues, and it’s an easier instruction to give users, who sometimes don’t know how to clear cache.

    2. Ally123*

      Yes me too! It’s fine on my phone (Safari) or Internet Explorer but I have the same problem using Chrome.

    3. I edit everything*

      Shift-F5 worked. I do know how to clear cache–just too lazy to do it right this minute. Now the type is itty bitty, though, so I might have to do it anyway.


      1. Oh Fiddlesticks*

        I always Command + (or Control + on a PC) to get the text here to a larger than default level.

        1. I edit everything*

          I think I’d zoomed out in an attempt to make the page readable, and that part didn’t reset. Back to normal!

      2. Koalafied*

        Semi time-saving method from someone who works on a website and has to clear my cache constantly: press F12 which opens up the developer console. Once the console is open, right clicking on the refresh button will now offer you a “clear cache and hard reload” option. (After which you can press F12 again to close the console.)

    4. Piano Girl*

      Thanks for asking this. I Was having the same problem on my iPad. After clearing my cache, everything went back to normal.

  3. employment lawyah*

    It doesn’t matter what percentage he asked for; it doesn’t matter how much you make (in some companies, there are employees who make more than the owner!) and so on. Those are just random rules aking to “how many months of salary should you spend on a ring” and so on, with no force.

    What matters is simple:
    1) What will you pay him?
    2) Why? (You don’t need to answer why, but it can help.)
    3) What non-monetary benefits will you include? Those can be worth a LOT, as you can see from the host of sastisfied folks who work “meaningful jobs with good benefits” for lower pay.
    4) What will he accept to continue working there?

    Good luck.

    1. Mama Bear*

      Agreed. Can he get more flexibility in his day or a little more PTO if you can’t reach $40/hr?

    2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      I think they also need to evaluate the role itself. Now that the responsibilities are a bit more nebulous, what is the actual work of the position and what is it’s value to the company.

      If the market research shows that the value of the role is $20 – $30/hr, then they need to determine if it’s worth finding alignment with this employee.

    3. Mookie*

      Also, given this bait and switch without the employer immediately acknowledging the discrepancy and then raising the wages without prompting/actively re-negotiating with the employee, this organization should accommodate his job search if the upcoming offer turns out to be unacceptable. Give him that time.

  4. CostAlltheThings*

    I suspect someone has told him to ask for more so that he has room to compromise.

    1. Ray Gillette*

      I had a similar thought – he may be expecting that an opening number is a starting point and the company will negotiate down no matter what, so he’s shooting for the moon.

      1. Jennifer*

        Lol! Why not ask for a million while you’re at it! Shoot for the stars!

        I’m thinking he may have looked at a salary range that isn’t specific for where he lives.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      This is what is most definitely happening. Except he, like most people I see, has egregiously misapplied it, thinking he’s being clever and savvy.

      Much like negging and the Socratic Method, most people know what this tactic is, rendering it ineffective, for the most part, on the recipients. The strategy becomes obvious when you totally overshoot.

    3. A Simple Narwhal*

      I made this mistake years ago, it was one of those parental gumption advice pieces, “you’ll never get what you ask for, so ask for more than what you want so when they negotiate down, you’ll get what you really want!” What they don’t tell you is that if you ask for something ridiculous they’ll just flat out reject you and you get zero opportunity to negotiate anything.

      1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

        “if you ask for something ridiculous they’ll just flat out reject you and you get zero opportunity to negotiate anything.”

        Bingo. I saw this backfire happen constantly when I was in sales. A successful negotiation begins at a number that is on the same street as the ballpark, not the next town over. If your opening offer is not even within the bounds of reality we shouldn’t waste our time negotiating as it is clear expectations are massively out of line, and only hurt feelings can result from that.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          I was so nervous negotiating my salary when I switched jobs. I was severely underpaid at my previous job, and the new position I was considered for was newly created for that company. I had no basis for how much that role should be making because I had next to nothing to compare it to! I ended up doing the math on how much I needed to make to live comfortably in my city (that has a high cost of living) and started about 10% above that total. It was a big step up from my previous salary, and it was so nerve-wrecking not knowing if they were going to balk. Unfortunately, they couldn’t offer my whole asking salary, but they came close(ish) and they offered generous benefits…so I did ok, all things considered.

      2. LifeBeforeCorona*

        At an old workplace we were paid between $16-17 an hour which was good for what we were doing. Someone came in for an interview and asked for $25, the boss said, thanks for coming in and ended the interview.

        1. Banker chick*

          I was working in a bank and a woman came in to interview for a teller position. She hadn’t worked outside the home for 20 years. She came in saying in order to work for us she needed six weeks of vacation a year ( two of those weeks she needed the next month) and a salary that was more than the assistant manager who was interviewing her made. Needless to say we laughed about that for awhile. I seriously doubt she even wanted a job….

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I’ve seen it too. Extremely qualified individual familiar with industry and specialized function, aimed really high, got turned down flat. “But I thought they’d negotiate!” Everyone lost in that one.

    4. Elenna*

      Yep, I agree – this is him taking the “start from higher than what you would actually accept” bargaining strategy WAY too far.

      1. TechWorker*

        To be fair, OP sounds like they have not much idea what the market rate for the level of work is. If market rate is actually $35/hr then they could be overshooting, but not ridiculously so

    5. Diahann Carroll*

      I thought that as well. A lot of people newer to the workforce are being told that they need to shoot for the moon because employers will try to beat you down as low as possible, so aim high so they’ll negotiate you down to the middle – which is the $20/hour OP said she sees as the baseline starting salary for the role in her research.

    6. Nesprin*

      Hmm, If you think 20-25 is fair and he thinks 35 is fair, he may be asking for 40 to get to 35. I’ve seen this myself, where the company’s research is using… an interesting… dataset to avoid coming to the conclusion that they should pay their employees fairly. I’d also note that a fair decision is one where everyone is a little unhappy- in this case fair probably lies ~30/hr.

      1. Quill*

        I’d like to note that for most locations in the U.S, that $20 an hour is the baseline for a living wage. And OP never stated if this person has vacation time or health insurance out of this deal, which can factor greatly into what their employee believes they’ll need to get by.

      2. Nesprin*

        FYI I was hired at 18ish for a job that by yr 2 in the position I was charging sponsors for at 35$/hr (+overheads, and I’d basically sold my labor for the year already). My company refused to give me a raise because their survey similar positions (not similar employees) suggested I was already overpaid. So I may be biased.

      3. Anononon*

        I’d also note that a fair decision is one where everyone is a little unhappy- in this case fair probably lies ~30/hr.

        I don’t like that. It implies that the goal is to just find the average between the two negotiations, when salary should really be much more standardized (based on other pay rates in the company, market rates, value of the employee, etc.).

        1. PeteAndRepeat*

          Agreed. And OP notes that she doesn’t even make $40/hour, so $30 for a new entry-level hire may not make sense. If pay is low across the board at this company, then it’s a question of whether the new hire wants to stay or not. But I don’t think the $40/hour number should be used as the ceiling for what’s “fair” simply because that was asked for.

          1. Junger*

            Although the employee isn’t doing entry level work, but that would lead to LW’S 20-25 raise.

      4. Brooks Brothers Stan*

        “A fair decision is one where everyone is a little bit unhappy.”

        Absolutely not. This is a path towards always feeling like you have been taken advantage of. The goal of successful negotiation is to arrive at a conclusion everyone is happy with. If people are unhappy with the decision it implies that one or both of the parties feel they have been taken advantage of. Even more so, just because something is Pareto efficient doesn’t imply fairness or equability. A fair decision is one in which neither party feels they have lost, and that each has successfully gained.

        Negotiations are not always zero-sum games.

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          Right, we don’t want to negotiate from the Michael Scott handbook. That’s how you end up with babies playing saxophones on a t-shirt.

        2. Yes Yes Yes*

          Exactly! I want the people who work for me to be happy with their compensation. I have an outstanding employee whose salary is higher than mine (I’m a business owner) and he is worth every penny. I am happy with his performance, and he is apparently happy with his salary and bonuses. He earns well over $100 per hour. Could I have negotiated lower pay for him? Almost certainly. But who wants an excellent employee to be unhappy?

        3. TechWorker*

          I mean, this is (sorry) kind of rubbish though because it’s more than possible for people to fundamentally disagree on what the ‘fair’ or ‘right’ answer is, so saying a decision is only fair if all parties are happy with it is… impossible. Yes, of course that’s the ideal outcome, but it’s not always realistic.

          (If the argument is ‘every decision should be debated and discussed until all parties come to the same conclusion’ I also think that’s simply unrealistic in most cases).

      5. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        “a fair decision is one where everyone is a little unhappy”
        yes yes yes! When both my kids complained that it was unfair, I’d tell them that at least I was distributing the unfairness fairly.

    7. Potatoes gonna potate*

      I did that a few years ago, asked for a salary that was actually market rate (75k for a senior tax accountant) but my company paid pathetically low. I got a 15% raise and was bumped up from 47ish to 55k. So sometimes it’s not the role itself but what the company is willing to pay.

    8. Firecat*

      I was thinking it was something like op was hired as junior accountant, boss says yout dping more senior level work. Op hears you are a senior accountant and looks up those salaries. Op is actually doing acvountamt or accountant II work.

      Regardless, Alisons advice is best. Talk to him. Dont get hung up on how much of a “raise” it is. Thats how people who are underpaid stay underpaid because – its a huge raise to bring them up to market.

      1. Uranus Wars*

        Yes, my thoughts were somewhere between this and advice to overshoot to leave room for negotiations. I think the conversation is best too, and if you ask him to share his research instead of say “this is what we know” it might help you understand where he is coming from and make him feel valued – because it sounds like you DO value him. Just not $40 an hour worth.

        As an aside, I know people are saying the company might be underpaying, but $40/hour is over $83K annualized. That’s a decent start in many industries (but this could be an outlier or high COL city, I do acknowledge that).

  5. The New Wanderer*

    “If he wants to make a case for the market supporting a higher number, he should be willing to tell you why he thinks that.”

    Absolutely. If he had a written offer from another company in your area for the same work at $40/hr, that’s a reasonable way to start this conversation. If he can point to a number of directly comparable GlassDoor postings or some other source of salary information, he can do that. And that would help OP too, if OP’s research was too brief and didn’t catch all the information. If he can’t, it comes across like he saw an ad for a company in a HCOL area offering way more for the same position and thinks that’s transferable to your company.

    It helps that OP supports getting him a raise and it certainly sounds warranted by the situation. Hopefully it will work out once the recommended conversation happens with the employee.

  6. Workfromhome*

    I agree that the most important thing is to determine if you were hiring for this job today knowing all the duties that were involved what the salary scale would look like. your company made a mistake for whatever reason it could have been totally innocent (but its not unrealistic for an employee to perceive it as being on purpose).
    The $40 might be a reaction to realizing after only 4 months that the job is not at all what you were hired for and you are obviously underpaid. “did they pull a fast one on me”. Is $40 way out of wack? Maybe BUT its hard to chastise someone for not knowing what the duties should pay when your entire company didn’t know what the job would entail before you hired them and haven’t made any effort to do their own evaluate it.

    It appears the employee was the one who discovered the job was different than what he was hired for and that he was underpaid. That’s different than if you as a manger came to him and said ” Wow you are doing a lot more than we hired you for we need to change your salary (maybe even retroactive) what we pay for these duties normally is $25 an hour lets get that changed. If you don’t know what the job is and should pay why would you penalize the employee for not knowing?

    Admit the mistake and as suggested present him with the information about the salary range.

    1. JSPA*

      Something like (e.g.) a bounce to $22 an hour but making it retroactive for two of the past four months recognizes the initial unfairness.

      My approach would be:

      “I agree that the job description should have been different and the pay should have been higher. Nevertheless, asking for close to double what the correct job description warrants will get me laughed out of the boss’s office. We’ll both lose credibility, and you’ll lose out on the raise and the change in title.

      Here’s what my research suggests is reasonable, and here’s that research.

      I would be very comfortable advocating hard for the title change and for the upper number in this range, or even the upper number plus 10% as a bargaining strategy, with the understanding that even, the lower number plus a couple of months retroactive pay as a bonus would be a solid outcome. I would not feel comfortable advocating for the number you suggested unless you have solid research that you can share with me, to make that case.”

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        I like this wording a lot. It’s very transparent and, hopefully, the employee would see that the OP isn’t now and wasn’t trying to pull one over on him by offering him the initial low salary.

      2. Another freelancer*

        I like this wording, too. It shows that OP will go to bat for the employee, but only if the demands are fair.

  7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    He probably doesn’t understand how wages work, it sounds like he’s just as new to this than anyone else. Given he took a job that was entry level and then it turned out so wildly different, most people do not find themselves in that situation.

    4 months isn’t that long but you should know how he’s handling this role being so different, that says a lot! Now you’re both in a weird position of him being drastically under paid and not knowing what the role really should be paid.

    I’ve seen many folks who ask for something so high be mostly their bad negotiating advice coupled with the fact that it’s hard to always know how to drill down and get a true market rate for specific roles. I wouldn’t bother with his actual number in this case, you’re not close enough to the CEO to know how he’ll react so I would be cautious about making him think poorly of a guy that he probably has little to no knowledge about as a human let alone as an employee and asset to the company itself. I’d approach it as a standard “We are drastically underpaying Freddy, we need to fix this. Here’s my market research.”

    1. Just a Thought*

      And I would add into why the position morphed from one type of job to another. Is there agreement from the boss that these much higher level tasks are what is needed?

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yeah, that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

        What I imagine is that the original job description was one thing because whomever made it didn’t know what that position even did.

        I’ve only seen it once over the years personally. They kept telling me that we just needed a “standard CSR and you know, hire anyone who has ever done some customer service, we just need a friendly person to take orders!” but no…bro…no. It was complete account management position, you needed to know the product, data entry was a big part of it but it was much deeper to say the least. They basically had me hire a receptionist for a frigging account management job, guess how many people needed to be thrown at that wall before one stuck? A lot. And it was my fault despite not being in charge of the stupid job description and they were being cheap AF an cutting corners. Yuck.

        It’s like needing a mechanic and hiring a shop assistant instead.

        If the CEO only talks to the OP 10 minutes every couple of weeks, I can see there being a huge disconnect over who does what, the role in question and what it actually requires, etc.

      2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Exactly this. I’m wondering if the nature of the job changing was led by the company itself, or if this is a case of an originally-underemployed person bringing their skill set to “side of the desk” tasks that aren’t core parts of the position they applied for.

    2. Caliente*

      Interesting that you said most people don’t find themselves in that position, because I find myself in that position frequently.
      I sew and do things like that in my personal work life, so for “the man” I’m an administrative assistant. There have been multiple times where I take your basic admin job and then when i work with people, different departments, different people it becomes very clear that I have brains, I do things quickly and easily, lean very fast and then its like oh well can you do this and can you do that. Then they have to nerve to get annoyed if you don’t want to do this other work that they want to throw at you because clearly you’re capable of doing it. For instance, my company has a whole marketing department, yet when they get swamped I’m one of the people they’ll ask to do my own send out on this or that because ‘we know if YOU go into the system you won’t mess anything up, but certain other people will”. I’m currently training people from different regions on hosting zoom calls, etc. In fact the other day a director at one of our regional offices called ME, going around my supervisor, to ask for advice on how to handle a particular thing. I have 2 supervisors and no one wants to work with them because they…don’t seem to know much. Various people in the company say You should just take that job, but guess what, I don’t want that job.
      Luckily, I negotiated one of the highest salaries for an incoming admin when I went to that company – after MUCH back and forth because I basically got to the point where I was said I won’t do it for less but I understand if you need to move on to another candidate. And I meant it.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        We’re not “most people”, Caliente. This isn’t standard practice for people, which is something you’ll want to learn.

        I have previously thought this was “normal” because of how I had things dumped in my lap and can pick them up and keep running. Then I started hiring people and working for growing organizations. Most people apply for jobs that fit their specialized skill set and that’s it, they can’t be bent into pretzels and made to do all the other tasks. They are focused on their specialty and often it takes all their efforts just to do that.

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          I suspect that there is a specific type of slightly more common person who does this a couple times in their career. They usually go into admin jobs at small organizations, often places they suspect aren’t sophisticated to really understand the skillset they need, hoping to tack on tasks associated with the job they really want to have to their admin role. These are people who are strategically using admin roles to launch into specialist roles doing something else entirely, rather than the people who are somewhat aiming for being awesome jack-of-all-trades admins.

      2. Diahann Carroll*

        I, too, find myself in this position a lot. My current role is one where I was hired to do one thing, but then as I got into it and saw gaps in our sales process and our marketing/communications strategies, I began giving myself projects to fill in the blanks – which put my position on a much higher level than it was originally conceived. Luckily, I had a gut feeling during my interviews that that would be the case given that the role I interviewed for was brand new to the company and they only had a broad sketch of what they would have liked someone in the position to do, but nothing really concrete (not even metrics for success), so I was able to negotiate my salary up to a level of someone who deals with strategy and technical processes rather than the lower level of my original job title.

        Once it became obvious that my role had expanded far beyond what they originally envisioned, my manager advocated for me to get a new title (that I came up with), and now my salary is in line with the new title (I was grossly overpaid according to my last title). But had my salary still been under market for the role I’m actually performing, I would have done market research on my new title and my region and presented my findings to management in the form of PDFs (since I work from home and don’t see anyone face-to-face where printouts would be useful). I also would have asked for the top of that range with the assumption that they would negotiate me down to the middle – but it for sure would not have been a 170% increase! Lol.

      3. Arts Akimbo*

        Yes, in my experience I find this happens quite often to intelligent young female-presenting admins in small, family, or startup businesses. They want you to do all the things, but they don’t want to give you the respect, the title, or the pay to reflect it. (But they value you!! Really!! /s)

        It has been decades since I’ve been in those roles and I’m still kind of bitter about it, because of the obvious manipulation and stereotyping that goes on.

  8. AndersonDarling*

    I’m guessing that the employee learned a new skill and searched for salaries based on people who have mastered that skill. Example: he may have started using Acme Analytics Software and searched for Acme Developers and found the $40/hr.
    It sounds like he is simply bad at having a salary discussion and he really did just throw out a number to get the ball rolling. He would probably be happy with whatever raise he receives.
    I’m happy the OP’s company is willing to re-evaluate the position and increase the salary to match.

    1. Bostonian*

      Yup. I was thinking that, as well. And no outside company looking for an Acme Developer is going to pay this guy an Acme Developer pay rate when he’s been working with Acme Analytics Software for only 4 months. So, I do think this person will (have to) be satisfied with the raise OP/company determines is market rate.

  9. Kimmybear*

    As others have said, sounds like he’s using the bad advice of “ask for something high and negotiate to something in the middle”. Though his expectation of $40 is way off, it sounds like $15 is off too. With the caveat that location and industry can impact this drastically, I wonder if $15 is a reasonable starting salary even before the job expectations changed. It’s minimum wage in a growing number of places.

  10. Jackson Codfish*

    Aside from Glassdoor, what other solid local salary research sources are out there? I see “do your research” a lot, but how do you track that down?

    1. Diotima*

      Something I’ve done is Googled past job postings in my field. For example, I would search similar companies’ names + the position (or related positions). You could also look up the city name.
      So if I was in the ski making industry, I’d search filetype:pdf (to get the PDF copies) Ski Sisters Ltd. + ski maker, Ski Bros Inc. + ski coordinator, PopularSkiCity + ski coordinator + job description. I’m not sure if this would work for all careers; it worked for me because my old industry frequently posted job postings with wages in PDFs to their website and never deleted them.

    2. HR in the city*

      I use the bureau of labor and statistics lots to look up salary information. It lets you look by your state and give minimum, mid, and top salary ranges. Wages can vary depending on your state so it is helpful to look by that. But it is hard because titles aren’t uniform. A specialist position some where could be an analyst job another place or vice versa. You need to look at multiple things to determine if what you are finding is correct.

  11. CM*

    My first thought was that you should have a talk with your employee saying that $20 (or whatever) is more reasonable based on your understanding of the market and the organization, and while you would need to get any proposal approved, you suggest your employee request that number instead. However, if it’s important to your employee to ask for $40, you will take that number to your boss.

  12. BRR*

    If he’s doing work that far above his pay, it doesn’t matter that his negotiation was….off or that he’s only been there four months. He’s being drastically underpaid. This is one of the rare times where it’s actually ok to ask for a raise after four months.

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      Yeah, asking for a raise is reasonable. It’s asking for a raise to far above market rate for the new duties (at least as far as his manager’s research suggests) that’s dubious. Especially since he’s already shown some signs that suggest he didn’t actually find that number through the kind of careful and accurate research that you’d want to see in making that steep a jump… he appears to be either misunderstanding how to use the online resources or just purposely tacking on a chunk above what he actually found to be market rate in order to let himself be negotiated down.

      Neither of those likelihood gives me any reason to think he should be getting $40/hour. But it sounds pretty darn clear that he should be getting more than fifteen, and he should be getting it soon.

    2. CW*

      Not to mention the flight risk. An employee who is underpaid and stays underpaid is likely to jump ship sooner than later.

  13. Joanna*

    I’d give the boss the 170%number, along with your research of what you think is realistic. Then boss can decide if he wants to offer the higher pay( your suggestion) and keep an unhappy employee for a bit longer or tell him to get lost right now.

  14. Emily*

    If someone is being paid significantly below market wages and you want to keep them, it is a good idea to preemptively acknowledge this and discuss a new pay rate. Now you have this employee who may reasonably feel taken advantage of, and when you come back with a different number — well, you’re the same people who told him he’d be doing one job, actually had him do another, and were comfortable with this situation with four months. I believe that he’s off in his numbers, but you’d be in a better position for having that conversation in terms of him trusting you if you’d been the one to initiate it.

  15. Anonymous1*

    “I told my employee that $40/hour was significantly more than I make….”

    That part seems like a mistake. I don’t think a boss should reference their own salary when speaking to their direct report.

      1. Anonymous1*

        Hey, don’t forget that Michael gets a company leased car so…. It’s not all about the money for him anyways…

    1. AnotherAlison*

      It’s also somewhat irrelevant. I’d rather be paid based on my value added, not hierarchy. We have certain engineers who are hard to hire because everyone wants them and there aren’t that many. They are reporting to managers from other engineering backgrounds which are more readily available and easier to hire. Who do you think makes more?

      1. Amy Sly*

        Have you seen the mathematical proof of why engineers are paid less than their bosses?

        Power = Work/Time (physics axiom)
        Knowledge is Power; Time is Money
        Therefore, Knowledge = Work/Money.
        Multiply both sides of the equation by Money, and divide both sides by Knowledge.
        Therefore, Money = Work/Knowledge.
        As the limit of Money goes to infinity, Knowledge goes to zero, regardless of Work performed.

      2. Diahann Carroll*

        Yeah. When I was in insurance, we had former attorneys working as claims adjusters at much higher pay rates than their managers/supervisors – if your employees have a bankable skillset that’s worth lots of money on the market, they’ll often out-earn you if you don’t have those same or similar skills.

    2. A Simple Narwhal*

      I had a boss tell me that my requested raise was more than they made. I’ll admit that my request was high and not executed very well, but in hindsight it made me depressed that my boss made so little. It was one of those “geez what am I even working towards then??”. It was a bad, overworked, underpaid position and that bit of info was just one more piece of the “why am I still working here” pie.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        I have also had this happen. Apparently where I worked, the pay was pegged based on the job and also what the other people in the title were getting paid. I couldn’t get the pay rate for my promotion, until my boss looked up what the other people in the role with more seniority were making to ensure I did not start at higher than them.

        It’s stupid but that’s how it works at places that are cheap. If you don’t like it, you can leave, and if you can’t leave, you put up with it until you can.

        1. TechWorker*

          Why is it stupid for a company to want to ensure equity amongst their own employees?

          Yes, their pay scales should be based on market rates, but I can’t really see how it’s ‘stupid’ to want to pay your senior people more.

      2. Amy Sly*

        Exactly. If this guy truly thinks $80K is what he’s worth, and his boss doesn’t make that much, that’s important information for him to know that the only way he’s likely to get what he thinks is worth is to leave.

      3. Maeve*

        When I was hiring my direct report he asked for $22 an hour, which is more than I make. I did not say that, but I did say it was out of the realm of possibility and offered him $18.50…which was about what I had been making in his position after two years of working there and two raises! (But I still wanted him to be getting paid as much as possible, $22 an hour just wasn’t possible, apparently for him or me.)

      4. gbca*

        But that’s also good info to have! I was laid off from a job in 2009, and was super fortunate to land a job in the same industry doing the same thing right away…at a 30% pay cut. When I left that company 6 months later for a job that got me back to my old salary, my boss (who was actually a few levels above me) asked what I was going to be making. I told her, and she noted that was more than she made. Glad I got out of there!

    3. Amy Sly*

      Eh, I get why you shouldn’t mention your salary when it’s higher than what’s being asked, but I can’t think of a better way to demonstrate just how unrealistic this guy’s request is when his desired salary is higher than his boss’s.

    4. MissDisplaced*

      It can be common in a lot of industries! And also whether or not the person is contract or full-time employee. Contractors often make more than the employees or managers. It doesn’t really matter what you make. A master level technician may make $120/hour if his expertise is critical to fix something critical. Don’t know if that’s the case here, but it does happen. So yeah, OP that was kind of the wrong thing to say in the moment.

      1. Gumby*

        It is common in a lot of industries. But it is not common when the person started at $15/hour just 4 months ago. Someone who took a job for $15/hour is probably not specialized enough yet to be out earning a manager. Unless it was a *vast* change in job duties.

      2. Jojo*

        It is easy for our mechanics to make more than our managers. Base rate for the mechanic plus 25 to 50 cents more per hour for a special ability. Plus shift premium. Plus the workers have better insurance than management.

    5. mreasy*

      I had a company owner tell me that if they gave me the (super reasonable and actually well below market) salary I asked for, they would have to give my boss and other senior folks at the company a raise too. I told them it seemed like they should do that? Anyways then I got a new job because I learned I’d never make a reasonable salary working there, even as the boss. And they were shocked!!!!! that I left.

    6. gbca*

      Eh, I’m all for salary transparency. It is a helpful data point for the employee to understand why that pay is unrealistic at this company. Maybe OP is underpaid, maybe not, but either way it gives the employee a frame of reference in the context of that company that is useful.

    7. Sarah*

      Honestly, depending on the employee, I think this might have been a good thing to say. It can be really hard to figure out what goes on behind the scenes. There is something to be said for an instinctive fully honest response.

  16. Summersun*

    What your company is willing to pay and whether this guy is being unreasonable aren’t the same concept, and you shouldn’t treat them as if they are. If you’re not willing to indulge this guy if he DOES bring you legit proof backing up his request, just say what the range is and don’t waste his time.

    I’ve busted my back to provide a sheaf of salary data with incredibly minute apples-to-apples comparisons (down to the level of making sure the companies had overlap in their NAICS codes). HR shrugged, tossed the packet aside, and said they called around to a few local places and averaged the numbers together.

  17. AnotherAlison*

    When talking to the employee, it’s also important to keep in mind that $40 might be accurate for his job. . .when he has 5 years of experience in the position. Which, backing out of that number, could make him worth about $30 now with decent raises for 5 years. And you can consider that he might be worth more, but you can only afford to pay him $25. He’s free to move on, but considering he took a $15/hr job, I don’t think he’s proven his market value at $25-40.

    Also: I have a higher salary senior type of job with some transparency on the salary. I have laid my eyes on salaries for the same title at my company within a $100k range, depending on seniority in the position and time in industry, recruiting, and advancement. [I mean like a range from $100-$200k, not like $95-105k.] You would think people would be outraged, but we’re not because it makes sense. There are so many factors into a specific person’s salary that he may well have seen research proving $40/hr is a good average, and $20/hr is still perfectly reasonable for him.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I was thinking of an Analyst role. You can have an “Analyst” that is more or less a data entry clerk at $12/hr, and then you can have a Data Scientist “Analyst” making $90/hr. You have to dig deep into the job descriptions to figure out where an analyst’s pay should fall in that spectrum.

      1. Kiwiii*

        Yeah, I was too. My job has Analyst in the title, but I just .. do some xml stuff and translate client jargon to IT jargon and back. it’s a $20-$30/hr job, tops. My boss’s boss also has Analyst in his title and I’m sure he makes 2-3x as much as me.

    1. Kimmybear*

      I had to do a double take too… A 50% raise would be a raise of $7.50 taking him up to $22.50. A 170% raise would be a raise of $25.50 bringing the total to $40.50.

    2. Senor Montoya*

      15 + 25.50 = 40.50

      I think OP means, 170% raise on top of current wage, not, new wage is 170% of current wage.

    3. Kiwiii*

      We often talk of raises on top of the base salary. So a 20% raise is really “20% on top of what I’m currently making”; it starts to break down and look weird when we get over 100%. But, you wouldn’t say someone who’s going to get a 10% pay cut is getting a 90% raise.

      1. CB212*

        I’d say we *always* talk that way, not just often. The raise refers to the increase, not the resulting new pay rate. Like, a 4% raise has never meant you lose almost your entire salary!

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You’re thinking 70% raise.


      To get this figure it’s 100% raise = double, so it’s actually 2.7x his base/starting wage.

  18. Matthew Sachs*

    If the company is fully remote, perhaps market rates for the employee’s work looks very different in the place the employee lives, the place the OP lives, the place OP’s boss lives, and the place the company is headquartered. Some companies that are highly distributed pay everyone based on rates in the employee’s locale; some don’t, and pay everyone the same rate regardless of where they live. There are reasonable arguments for and against doing it either way — which approach is the company using?

  19. Helpful*

    Is he still doing what you hired him for in addition to the higher-end work? He may be adding the two pay rates together to get the $40/hour.

    1. Hard working Panda*

      Hm good point. I never know how I feel about people claiming they do “2 jobs”… if it can realistically be done by one person in 40 hours per week (they named an hourly salary, so I assume they are hourly), then should it really be done by 2 different people?
      It might be time to revise job descriptions and how many people are actually needed. (I personally can’t stand being idle, and would hate to hold a job that doesn’t fill all my time).

    2. hbc*

      Been there, had to eventually boot the guy. He couldn’t shake the idea that he was doing Two Jobs so he should get the sum, rather than him doing 20 hours a week of one or 20 hours a week of the other.

      Sometimes I think he could have been a good employee if he had managed to understand the concept and not been constantly resentful, but then, I don’t think you can have that misunderstanding without there being some other underlying problems. I hope that’s not what happens with OP’s situation.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yikes, that would be a frustrating situation to be caught up in.

        I can see why they’re stuck in that mindset but it’s also why they’re not going to work out long term. And any time someone gets to the “resentful” stage, it’s just better to cut the losses. He is probably a decent employee somewhere else he’s not doing split duties.

        If I broke down all my duties and just stacked the wages, well I’d be hanging out with Mark Cuban at this point. Bless his heart.

  20. Hard working Panda*

    I want to think his research might be skewed by him forgetting to account for the fact that he is 4 months into doing this job. I have run into this issue with a lot of young employees who have 1-2 years of job experience (all together, not just in the job I hire for), when we make them an offer, inevitably they came back with “well i did some research and on averahe Llama groomers make 50% more than what you are offering”… yes, but right now they know nothing about Llama grooming and barely have some experience about Llama walking, so once they are one the job and know what they are doing yes, they will get raises and get there…
    Also, usually none of those salary research tools correct for the size of the company they provide data for. Llama grooming supervisor for Llama international, Inc. would entail a lot more responsibility (likely) and therefore a higher salary than Local Llamas, where there is just one Llama groomer.

  21. Person from the Resume*

    LW, you do not have to support his request or bring his request to your boss with no context. You should recommend a raise to $25 based on his current role. You should probably mention what they guy asked for, but that you feel is appropriate.

    It doesn’t have to be a negotiation where you work your way to a middle number you agree on. You/your boss can offer him a $25 raise and when he tries to bargain for a higher number just stick to $25 as all you can offer.

  22. Wintergreen*

    Sorry is someone mentioned this, I haven’t read all the comments yet but….
    The first thing that popped into my head was this just a miscommunication? Like you are saying $40/hr and he is thinking $40K/year (about $20/hr)? I just can’t imagine anyone thinking $40/hr is reasonable unless they are well along their chosen career path. And if he took a job at $15/hr I don’t think he’s well established in any career.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Oh, that would be an interesting twist, if he said “I think I’m worth $40” and he meant per year but you meant per hour.

    2. Bear Shark*

      I had that happen to me once in an interview. They asked what I was looking for and I said 50 meaning $50K/year and they thought I meant $50/hr. When they responded that $50/hr was a bit above the top of their range at $48/hr I knew I was probably underqualified for that job.

  23. TeapotNinja*

    I would tell the employee to get back to me with a more realistic number and documented research on why he thinks whatever number he comes back with is reasonable.

    He shouldn’t just come up with a number because it’s a “good starting point”. If I were justifying any request to my boss in that way, none of my requests would be accommodated.

    1. blaise zamboni*

      Even knowing that the company is steeply underpaying him? Why is the onus on him to fix the situation when the company has wronged him?

      I don’t think the number is realistic, but I’ve also been (intentionally) underpaid. I advocated for myself for a few years, using “more realistic numbers” because I don’t like to rock the boat, which got me absolutely nowhere (I got 2% COL increases instead). When I quit the company finally tried to counter-offer me the same pay raise the OP is talking about, from $15 to low $20s. They waited until they had no other choice before they tried to correct the problem. I was training brand new hires who made more money than I did, but they just saw their bottom line and didn’t give a shit about how that would affect my morale and longevity at the company.

      I believe OP that her company isn’t jerking this guy around to be exploitative. Unfortunately, many companies are exploitative, especially towards people who are newer to the workforce and are less confident advocating for themselves. I think OP can have a conversation with her report about how to handle raise requests and pay disparities in the future, and about her own research and perspective of the value of the role he’s performing now. But it makes no sense to me to play games with him (“do more research and come back to me”) when the company is the one in the wrong here. This isn’t someone asking for a raise during an annual review cycle based on their established work. This is someone who is doing a different job than they signed up for while the company benefits from their underpaid labor. That’s not even comparable.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        I don’t think the onus should be on the employee to get paid the proper amount, but if the employee is proposing something outrageous as “the proper amount,” the onus should be on the employee to justify why that outrageous amount is “proper.”

  24. CW*

    $15/hr to begin with sounds stingy. But I am biased because I was in a similar situation a few years ago. Except that my employer was cheap, like a modern day Ebenezer Scrooge. I hated it there and I was out of there 5 months later. It ended on a REALLY bad note.

    But for you, look at the bigger picture. If the employee is worth it based on the job and performance, then give the raise you think is deserved. Otherwise, the employee is likely to quit sooner than later, and that means more time wasted hiring a new employee. Just a thought.

  25. Anonymous Educator*

    The employee’s ask is probably out of line, but it’s hard to know. You may think it’s ridiculous he’s asking for more than what you make. You may be being severely underpaid, too, though. Just something to keep in mind.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      They’re probably shooting high end and/or misinterpreted the data from Glassdoor or, which can be on the high side, or both. But it doesn’t mean he is completely wrong or out of line either. And Anonymous Educator is right, you might also be vastly underpaid. So you need to look into this too.

  26. Grim*

    I was in a similar position as the OP. After 2 years working at a medical device startup as a technician ($20/hr), I progressed to doing the work of the lab manager. I asked for a 20% raise.

    The company said they needed to hire company to do a professional review of everyone salaries. 3 months later, they shared the results of the review, which showed a Lab Manager should be making $40 an hour. I was thrilled and I said I didn’t expect that big of a raise and $30 an hour would be fine with me.

    After a month of waiting, I asked my manager about the delay and he said the company was not going to adjust my salary or change my title.

    I left about one month later to work as a lab manager at another startup making $33/hr.

  27. Donna*

    One thought I have is that someone new to the working world hasn’t necessarily internalized how hourly rate translates to annual income. When I tutored private clients, I started charging around $15 and went up to about $25-30 pretty quickly. That’s about the difference between a high school student and a college student, and though it made a big difference in my disposable income, given that I tutored like 5 hours a week it was $300 vs $600 a month, which means more fun but not really a different lifestyle.

    On the other hand, $20 vs $40 for a full time job is 40k vs 80k. It’s possible that if you framed it to him like that, he would realize the huge discrepancy in what he’s asking for.

    But I think it also makes sense to go back to the employee and say that an excessively large number is more likely to hamper his negotiation efforts than leave room for back and forth. Even though you have a number in mind, I think it would make sense to ask him to go back and do research and come up with a realistic number. That’s more for his own personal development, so that the next time he’s in this situation he doesn’t shoot himself in the foot.

    Finally, I know you mentioned that $40/hr is more than you make. I’m taking your word for it that you’re fairly compensated and that your assessment of his market worth is accurate. But it might be worth doing some research of your own, and verifying that assumption. He shouldn’t be underpaid just because you are, if that really is the case.

  28. foolofgrace*

    I think it would be a mistake to not tell the boss about the $40 ask. You can provide info on a realistic salary increase, but the boss should know about it so they have the total picture.

  29. azvlr*

    It’s possible this employee found research based on contractor rates for similar work?

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Good point. Self-employed $40/hour is very different from employed-by-someone-else $40/hour.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      I think they looked on salary comparison website and the range for whatever he input might’ve been 20-40. The not thinking about the fact that likely covered people with many more years experience, decided to ask for the top number in the chart figuring they’d land somewhere in the middle, without fully thinking through how huge a range that is when spread across a year. Or without fully thinking through “doing this for 4 months” should not equal “getting the top of the range”.

  30. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    Is he “replaceable”? If so, you could have a word “off the record” about: get a competing offer and then I’ll have something concrete to take up the chain, as $40/hr is so much hot air otherwise.
    I think one of 3 things would happen, any of which you can then deal with accordingly:
    1) He’ll get an offer of in the region of $40/hr and your company will realize that that’s the market rate and give him a counter-offer accordingly (Which I wouldn’t take in his position!)
    2) He’ll get an offer of $40/hr that your company can’t meet because that is genuinely a better job, but one that he can do, but your company can’t offer that job due to lack of business need etc.
    3) He won’t be able to get a $40/hr offer but will come back with comparable $25/hr type of positions (Why is there a $40/hr hourly position anyway, wouldn’t it be salaried generally at that level?!)

    I’m almost wondering if he has taken the criteria of what he’s currently working on and researched it into something that sounds similar but is much more advanced/senior, e.g. “entering information into a database” vs “Database Administrator”.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      You want him to waste the time of another company by interviewing and getting to the offer stage (potentially making other people miss out on the opportunity or choose a lower-paying job because someone else was offered the job first) just so his company can pay him fairly? That is unethical. He should instead just share the market research he already did to see how accurate it really is to the work he’s doing.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Yeah, this is bizarre. If you make an employee go through the trouble to interview with and get an offer from another workplace for a higher salary just to prove the employee can get that salary, chances are you’ll lose that employee to the other workplace.

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          lawyah – two more questions

          5) how much do you have to pay to keep him from leaving? and
          6) if he DOES leave – how much will it cost you to replace him? Will you have to hire two people to replace him?

          One thing that’s oft-forgotten – if you underpay a guy for too long, a raise may not be enough to keep him for very long. If he goes from $15 hour to $25/hour ‘- that’s $52,000 a year. You’re giving him a base for his next job search. . Then again, you may have unwittingly lowballed yourself into a mess.

  31. voyager1*

    I don’t think the problem is his asking, it is his attitude afterwards. I would offer him $5.00 an hr raise since you admit he is doing more work then you thought the job would be.

  32. bookartist*

    “The trouble is that he’s asked for an increase to $40/hour, and he’s only been here for four months. That’s significantly more than I make…”

    Maybe you’re underpaid too?

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Yeah I had that from a boss once, but I really hoped he used MY salary number to get his own situation fixed.

  33. Analyst Editor*

    I knew someone who also asked for a substantial raise from what they were hired based on the amount of new revenue that their work brought in, which was substantially than others in a similar position. I think they ended up agreeing.

  34. Elizzkra*

    Before you say his salary request is more than you make, account for benefits (if you get them
    ). Many hourly contractors justifiably earn a pretty high hourly rate to compensate for the lack of benefits, relative instability of the work and the need to provide all their own office equipment and supplies.

    I don’t know where you live or what kind of work you do, but in my area, babysitters make $15-$20 and hour so $40/hour for a professional position seems like you’re getting a bargain.

    1. CW*

      Cashiers in my area make the around same amount, especially if they are unionized. This was the case when I worked for only $15/hr a few years ago. I posted a comment above about this, but I was severely lowballed at that company. I knew I was making less than the grocery store cashier who rode on the same bus with me in the morning on my morning commute. Was I happy? No I wasn’t, but I won’t go into great details here.

      The point is I agree with you. It does seem like a bargain, especially if low skilled jobs pay that kind of pay you mentioned.

  35. Sled dog mama*

    This almost makes me wonder if he read something like ask for twice the raise you want and misinterpreted it. So if he currently makes $15/hr and wants $20 he should ask for $25. But instead of doubling the increase ($5 to $10) he doubled the hourly rate ($20 to $40)

    1. t*

      Aren’t you his manager? If I were the owner, I would expect you to make a recommendation about his salary, which then I could approve, or not. Going to the owner with a ridiculous number you don’t support wouldn’t make a lot of sense. You might mention that the employee asked for $40/hr as an interesting data point, but the point of the conversation would be to get the raise approved.

      If your boss would rather get involved in this himself, then your employee should negotiate directly with him and leave you out of it.

  36. Scourge of Incompetent Management*

    Some of the OP’s words come across as deflecting and minimizing: “His responsibilities have ended up being different …” and the like. You’re his manager, OP! His responsibilities didn’t “end up” changing – YOU changed them. YOU have also been grossly underpaying him for 4 months. You’re “honestly kind of in shock” that he thinks it’s OK to ask for a 170% raise that would put him 60% over the high end of your quick market-research range, but you’re not “honestly kind of in shock” that you’ve thought it’s been OK to pay him 40% below the high end of the range for four months and that you didn’t do any of your quick market research until he brought it up? If he’s presumptuous for overreaching on his request, he’s no more so than you are for having underpaid him so badly for so long. Your sin is arguably worse than his, because you’re the manager and you should know better.

    1. Perpal*

      Wow, you’re coming on a little strong there we’re talking 4 months, not years, and really minimizing the research OP has tried to do

      1. Forrest*

        But that’s partly because our culture has such a heavy bias towards the idea that it’s OK for companies to underpay, make mistakes in pay or otherwise benefit unfairly from employees’ labour, when the other way around it’s always seen as egregious, criminal etc. Underpaying someone by $10 an hour for four months is $6400. In any situation where an individual benefitted to the turn of $6400 and an employer was out–overpay, or an employee made a mistake that meant they personally benefitted by $6400 to the company’s detriment–it would be absolutely clear that this should be rectified as quickly as possible and was a completely unacceptable situation, and in many cases the consequences for the person who made the mistake would be very serious. Taking underpayment as seriously as we take overpayment would be a very good thing!

        1. TechWorker*

          That type of overpaying is not directly comparable to underpaying though. It’s more equivalent to someone getting a higher than market rate salary (due to, say the opposite to this where the role was incorrectly understood). In that case a company might be pissed if they worked it out, or even decide to change the salary, but there would be no question of getting the overpayment paid back.

          1. Forrest*

            OK, but my point is that we shouldn’t treat it as equivalent, because of the disparity in power between an employer and an individual employee. We *should* err on the side of taking a mistake that leads to an individual being underpaid by $10 an hour for months at a time as seriously as theft, or a significant payroll error and regarding it as a mistake which needs to be fixed urgently and hold the person with the power to fix it accountable. “Whenever you get around to it” shouldn’t be an acceptable answer.

    2. What the What*

      I had the same feeling. Why is she offended? He’s the one who should be offended He’s the one who has been underpaid, and if he hadn’t said anything, would continue to be overpaid. The OP is shocked because they have transparency about the company’s salary ranges and more information than the employee. “How dare he come at me with a salary too high for the secret salary range that no one shared with him while we drastically underpaid him and hoped he would keep working for less.”

      I’m a CPA. If I take a job for $20/hr doing Bookkeeping and 4 months later end up representing my employer in an IRS audit, I’m going to expect them to pay me accordingly at $200/hr. It doesn’t matter if I’ve only been there 4 months, if you change the job AND I’m performing that job competently. Pay me for the job I’m doing.

  37. Alexis Rose*

    My husband has definitely been guilty of looking at average salaries / rates for his duties online and then thinking, “I should be making at least the average salary!” Forgetting that the average includes people with a huge amount of experience, as well as people who work in a wildly different environment and may be getting stingier benefits while his benefits are generous.

    See where the employee got the number–perhaps it’s something for him to expect to be at in X number of years?

  38. Alice*

    OP, if the fair wage is $20, and he’s working full time, he’s currently short $10k/yr. $20k if the $25 wage is fair. You presumably knew this, and you waited for him to raise it as an issue?
    You are lucky that he’s still willing to work for you.
    Good luck.

  39. squarecushion*

    There’s no drama. OP pointed out to the employee they are not in ballpark. Employee still wants to push for it. Their funeral.

    Simply say to boss “Employee is asking for $40, I believe this role is more around the x mark, what say you?”

  40. Sarah*

    You should just figure out a reasonable salary and try to get him that. As an employer, you have far more information about reasonable salaries than he does. Ultimately, you probably didn’t hire him because of how well he knows his fair market rank. You recognize you are underpaying him. I’d just try to get him a fair salary and then when you find out the result, you can talk to him about what you did. If he seems upset, then you can have a bigger conversation, but there is a definite possibility that he knows he is underpaid but not by how much and he will be very relieved to get a raise of any amount.

    If he is particularly good at his job, definitely tell him that when you let him know the result. A sincere compliment will go a long way.

  41. Sleeplessinseattle*

    Think about it this way.

    The company drastically underpaid for his position. The employee countered in kind (likely because you’ve set the norm that wild differences from the market are the starting points for your negotiation.) So treat it like a negotiation where the parties are starting from positions far away from the mean! What on earth was your employee supposed to think? That seems to be the way you negotiate – why is it bad faith when you do it, but not them?

    They may well be expecting you to counter with something like $20, expecting to settle closer to $25.

    1. Forrest*

      >>why is it bad faith when you do it, but not them?

      This is a really good way of putting it. If your £20-25 figure is right, the employee is out of $6400 for four months’ work which isn’t even on the table. That is the figure you should be focusing on, and you should be trying to rectify that situation as quickly as possible.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      You don’t have to negotiate salary in the way you would barter for something in a market.

      The business can say “we can offer you $25” and remain solid on that number.

      The employee can say “I won’t accept less than $30” and refuse to budge.

  42. Nicole*

    I can’t imagine someone worth $40 an hour taking a job that pays $15, so I find it hard to believe the position is worth that much even with the changes in job duties. Taking new responsibilities that raise it to $20-$25 seems plausible but $40? If the experience and skills were actually worth that much I don’t think he would ever take this position to begin with.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      When unemployment runs out or you can’t get unemployment you will take any job to get by.
      So yes, I can imagine it.

    2. What the What*

      I currently bill between $150-$200 per hour. If I sold my business, I would consider taking a job that paid me $25/hr if it fit my interests, was low stress, and fit my schedule. People take jobs they’re over qualified for all the time.

      In any case, the OP didn’t say he as incompetent or in any way under performing. It would appear, from the letter, that he is performing at the higher level that the job demands.

  43. Forrest*

    I feel like OP is getting really caught up in some kind of sense of outrage about the employee asking for a high figure which is really unwarranted, and which is clouding their judgment. It seems pretty simple to me. If you think there’s a chance that $40 per hour is realistic, ask the employee to document and show their research: maybe there’s something you’ve overlooked. If you don’t think it’s realistic, and you’d rather lose the employee than put them on such a high salary, get your own research together, go to your manager, and propose a solid figure that you feel comfortable defending.

    You don’t have to “do something” about the $40 figure if it’s not realistic or solidly evidenced: you don’t have to take it into account as a starting point, you don’t have to defend why you’re not willing to offer that much, and you definitely don’t have to punish the employee for not understanding the rules of negotiation or having as a good an idea of how to research salaries as you do. You can literally just present your counter-offer and let the employee decide whether or not to accept it. That’s it!

  44. Lauren*

    I think the guy may be saying $40 to get $25. Like he assumes asking for $25 will only get him the middle ground. This is a tactic women deal with often, because we usually get short changed in this department where negotiating isn’t real and you have to say a higher number just to get the real number you know is more reasonable.

  45. Anonymeece*

    I just appreciate Alison noting that geography and experience makes a difference. I work at a community college and there’s a project where students have to research their intended career and find a salary for it, and inevitably, they post the high-end of the salary range that means you have 10+ years of experience. It breaks their little hearts when we tell them, “For just entering this career, look at the low end…”

  46. Eliza*

    I can’t see in the thread if we have already discussed his employment status, but I’m wondering if the pay bump was due to him being hired as a contractor and not realizing before that he needs to also include the costs of paying his own income taxes, healthcare benefits, and so on.

  47. mgguy*

    I can really relate to the employee, as in my current job(that I’m leaving at the end of next week) I was hired fresh with a master’s degree basically to “fill the gap” for a mistake in hiring someone who wasn’t up to the role. I sort of got caught because they’d talked the job up to me big time and told me the longer term plan was to transition me to the job I REALLY wanted when its then current holder retired(he’d already stated that he was planning on it the next year). Because of all of that, I didn’t really look for other opportunities(my mistake at the time), and when the offer letter came in it was for $13/hour. That was in 2015, for a job that required a masters STEM degree to do competently. I nearly tore up the offer letter and walked out, but held my tongue and took it because I needed SOMETHING and figured it would do until I could either find something else or convince them of my value, plus I was offered vague promises of other things to pad my salary(those initially were there, but dried up due to changing rules higher up).

    I trudged along a year, learning the job I was supposed to transition into and also picking up a bunch more responsibilities. The other employee’s retirement came to pass, and I quite literally transitioned full time into that role the next day with essentially no transition time for what was considered a mission-critical role there. That’s not to say I didn’t still have somewhat of a learning curve, but I’d basically been doing the day-to-day work for about 2 months(with direct supervision) while also holding up my other responsibilities. Once I had it full time, I did a lot of work to both improve the department capabilities in that role(both by being proactive about things to avoid inconvenient downtime as much as possible, adding redundancy, and upgrading or acquiring new equipment to fil needs) and did all of that by spending LESS money than my predecessor had in the previous year.

    I though I had a rock solid case for the number I wanted, and aside from that could back it up by numbers from their then favorite phrase of “Benchmark institutions”(other public universities they considered similar-which also meant full transparency on salaries). They drug their feet on the promised raise, and told me only very vaguely “It’s going to be huge when it comes through” with me also stating what I expected(salaried, but equivalent to about $25/hour) with plenty of information to back it up…and over a year later it came in at $16/hour. Once again I nearly walked out, and actually wrote my two weeks notice and nearly turned it in a few times, but instead just kept applying. Finally I got a bite, walked in with an offer letter, and less than 24 hours later had a match at $20/hour with some extra incentive(5 year bump in seniority for benefits purposes, which meant 5 more days vacation a year).

    I still wasn’t where I wanted be, though, and built a case-not the least of which were the number of 50+ hour weeks I was pulling out of necessity as an hourly employee, and pointing out how I was basically averaging out in a year to the $25/hour I wanted, and that if they could make me salaried it would be a lot easier to budget. By that time, we’d had a full turnover of management, and about a month after I made that comment was called up to my manager’s office and handed a copy of an email stating that as of that date, I had been reclassified to the salary I had asked for with the title I wanted.

    Amazingly enough, when I got my most recent offer(that I decided to accept) they asked to counter, and I named a high number that I could still back up based on others within our institution. They wouldn’t do it, and I gave my notice, but it was amazing how things had changed and I did FINALLY get to somewhere where I was happy even though it took time. I should also mention that even though the retention offer was higher than the offer for my new position, my manager said that he wanted to keep me as an employee, but recognized how good of an opportunity the new position was and said that if I were his son, he’d tell me to go.

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