I got promoted, but I can’t get a fair salary

A reader writes:

I was hired as an entry-level, salaried employee five years ago. After less than a year, a new position was created for me – not a promotion or lateral move, but an entirely new position, one with a different expertise. The salary for my original position was average, and my salary adjustment when I was moved to the new position (one I wanted and helped create!) was a 22% increase. Had they paid me the average salary for the position, it would have been closer to a 100% increase.

When I questioned the rationale behind the new salary and explained that the average for this position is significantly higher, I was told I had received “a significant raise” and could not be given a larger one.

If they had hired for the position from the outside rather than promoting me into it, there’s no way they would have offered the salary I was given for it. It’s a highly-paid field and I’m making peanuts, comparatively. (That said, I have no interest in leaving my workplace; I intend to stay there for a very long time and while the money isn’t everything, it is still something.)

I was later approached by a recruiter to take the same job at a competitor where I would have been paid above the average for this kind of work. I turned it down because it was a toxic workplace, but I did use their offer to eke another 20% out of my employer. But, still: I’m severely underpaid compared to what I could be paid anywhere else.

It seems that I’m being penalized, unintentional as it may be, because they hired from within, and they’re looking at the position shift I made as a step up the ladder of that role, but my previous position would never lead to the one I’m now in; they’re completely unrelated positions! Any advice on how to navigate this in a way that doesn’t make me look like I’m ungrateful or making an absurd request to push my salary significantly higher? I just want to be paid fairly!

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 142 comments… read them below }

  1. SushiRoll*

    lol welcome to my life, it’s why i have put out 3 applications in the last week. finally just tired of it.

  2. Baking Bread*

    I feel like the days of staying at one company long-term and being able to make a good living with promotions and salary increases is gone. LW really hits it on the head, “It seems that I’m being penalized, unintentional as it may be, because they hired from within.” It may not be penalization on purpose, but you do get better salary increases when promotions or position changes take place across employers. Heck, I quadrupled my salary in 4 years when I first went to Employer B, doubling what I making in a similar role at Employer A, and then a few years later moved to Employer C for a higher level role, again, doubling what I was making at B. Nowadays it seems the easiest and quickest way to get promotions and substantially increase your compensation.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I advertised for an open position, and an internal candidate applied. She was my best candidate, and we offered her the job; she left the position in the other team to take mine. The salary was a significant bump–let’s say 15%. On her first paycheck, her salary was only 10% higher. I had no idea what was going on.

      So we went to chase it down, and it turned out that the company’s business manager had said, when she got the paperwork, “Oh, she’s an internal hire, I can’t give her a huge salary bump like that.”

      We were pissed and went to HR, and the HR director B L E W U P. “You don’t offer a job to someone and change it on them. You don’t advertise a job as paying $X and then drop the salary. And you don’t cheap out on internal hires.”

      1. ahhh*

        Toots NYC – this story is the gossip of my day…. what happened? Did your employee stay? Did she get a raise? Did she go back to her old position? That’s a horrible thing for a company to do.

        1. TootsNYC*

          she got her salary raised and back pay. The HR lady was fuming.
          And she stayed and felt advocated for. She did end up leaving about a year later for some other sort of opportunity, but it had nothing to do with working for me.

          1. TootsNYC*

            and there were a lot of other problems with that business manager. There was a cap on raises because the company was struggling a little.
            I had a couple of really good people who said they’d been offered conflicting gigs at a higher rate, and they’d rather work for me but couldn’t turn the money down.
            I put in for a higher rate, and this business manager said, “I’m not going to give a raise to mere freelancers when I can’t give one to staffers.”
            My boss went to her and said, “It’s not about giving someone a raise. It’s about paying a competitive rate so we can hire decent freelancers. It’s about the market, not about the individual person’s change in salary.” (and in fact, the market rate was slowly rising bcs this had been my policy for awhile)

            I used to bring in freelancers at a slightly lower rate and then raise it when they’d proven themselves and learned more (therefore more valuable). I learned my lesson–I never brought someone in at a lower rate again. (I’d done it a few times when I felt I was taking a bit of a chance on someone, but after this experience, I just vowed to only hire them if I thought they were good enough, and pay them the max. No more trying to save the company money, etc.) I don’t think that was a big factor in that particular instance, but I saw the danger of the process.

            This business manager also used to get upset if first you created expensive materials for a premium project, and created less expensive materials for a non-premium project (which was according to the budgeted rate for each type of project), but THEN you decided to use the less expensive material for that premium spot because they turned out so much better, and use the more expensive ones in the nonpremium spot. The company’s goals were being met with excellence, but she’d get upset because now the non-premium spot was over budget, even though the premium spot was way under budget.
            it was the exact same money in the end–you’d just switched them around. But she focused on the type of project, instead of the big picture. And refused to let the savings to the premium spot offset the other.
            We got a new CFO a few years later, and this was the FIRST thing he got rid of. He had a big meeting with all the departments to explain it, and he made her sit there beside him while he said, “we aren’t doing this anymore–you should never have been doing it.”

          2. ahhh*

            I’m glad to hear you and the HR director stood up for the employee. It sounds like the HR lady needs to get on the same page as the director. Hopefully this was a lesson learned for her. Good for your employee!

      2. KHB*

        You especially don’t offer someone a job for $X, and then spring on them after they’ve been working for two weeks that they’ve actually been working for $X – 5%. That, as I (not a lawyer) understand it, is one of the few things that’s actually illegal.

        1. TootsNYC*

          that’s part of what was so upsetting–she’d left her job in the other department, and it had been filled already. So she couldn’t just say, “eff you,” and go back to her job.

          And the business manager had never talked to me. I think she had talked to my boss, who had said, “Oh, ok, if that’s how it goes–you’re the business manager.” (she learned from that–see above)

      3. Antilles*

        I’m glad your HR director went off, because that’s the kind of story that spreads like wildfire and makes everybody in the company worry about ever accepting a transfer/internal promotion. The long-term hit to your morale and retention would cost you far more than 5% extra salary ever could.
        (Also, I’d like to echo “ahhh” below in asking for more details about how this turned out long term)

      4. Koalafied*

        I can’t even wrap my mind around what the thought process is there. Why can’t you give an internal hire a huge salary bump? What bad outcome is this policy attempting to prevent? (Sure it’s not a fear that other employees who see a colleague get a big pay bump by moving into a entirely new position will expect to be able to get equivalent big pay bumps as merit raises within their own jobs? Because that seems like something that can easily be explained to the colleagues as “different jobs have different market salaries” and doesn’t even require them to defend any subjective assessments?

    2. Artemesia*

      Maybe the other company she applied to had a toxic workplace but perhaps not all do — The amount of money is really significant here — it makes a huge difference in future retirement funds and opportunities. If I were the OP I would seriously cast a broad net and look for a position that pays what she is work. It is possible she could move back to the original company at some future point.

    3. Ace in the Hole*

      Increasingly rare, perhaps, but not entirely gone.

      I started at my organization as a part-time extra help worker 10 years ago. Over the last decade I’ve gone from that to full time permanent (entry level), to a mid-level technician, and now I’m doing work that typically requires a degree I don’t yet have but I still get the industry standard title and competitive pay. I’ve see the same happen with colleagues – one of our directors was promoted internally and started as an entry-level laborer. I’m willing to guess this is more common in rural areas. There are fewer qualified applicants and it’s very difficult to attract candidates from outside the area, so employers are more inclined to promote internally. Because if someone does leave, you might be stuck trying to fill that position for many months.

      We’re public sector in a rural area so the compensation isn’t amazing on paper, but compared to COL it’s about average for our job titles. I’m sure a skilled and determined person could make more money by job hopping, but there would be a pretty heavy cost to that in terms of stress, instability, relocation costs, etc. Personally having the security of knowing I have a good work environment, supportive management, and job security is worth a lot… I’m willing to take a lower salary for that as long as I can still comfortably support myself.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I’ve had a similar experience – I took a detour in the middle, but I’m working for the organization I did my college internships with and have been promoted every time I started getting remotely bored. Overall, my bosses have been great, and I’m not aware of any increase capping (the position pays $X-Y, inside or outside candidate, and Z are the factors that determine where you are in the range) and have received raises over 15% any time I’ve gotten a promotion. There are a number of long-time employees here, and promoting from within is encouraged.

        I’m in a large metro area where I’m sure there are other qualified candidates, but I get high marks every year, I know the people, and they seem satisfied to keep me around and moving up. And, for my industry, my quality of life is not bad.

      2. TardyTardis*

        The problem with a rural area that if you actually get benefits, you’re aristocracy and you know that you probably aren’t going to do any better unless you *do* move. Companies know when they have a captive workforce, and they do take advantage of it.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          Oh, sure… I’m not saying there aren’t issues in rural areas. Similarly, there are a lot of jobs that just plain don’t exist here. There’s a reason no one I grew up with lives here – they wanted careers in engineering, tech, marketing, etc. that this area just can’t provide.

    4. TardyTardis*

      Yup, these days you *have* to move to get a fair salary. (those of us in small rural towns who can’t move? Oops).

    5. Chelle*

      My company is the exception that proves the rule here–they start people in my role at a good amount of money, but low for the industry…because they hire people fresh out of college with no training or experience in the industry at all, then train them and give enormous annual raises. My first three were over 20%; the fourth brought my salary up to double my starting salary. Now I’ve plateaued and am getting ~3% COL raises, but I’m arguably overpaid, which makes it hard to leave.

      The other thing that makes it hard to leave is the non-compete clause which, while probably not legally enforceable (they would probably not sue me), is still something they can put teeth in because of their prominence in the industry. The good side is most orgs in the industry know about it and aren’t surprised by a gap or period of time in another industry after leaving, but it’s hard to figure out how to support yourself for that period when you do want to leave!

  3. Zach*

    It’s unfortunate, but the best way to get a significant raise is to get a job at another company. Every now and then you will luck out internally, but never hold out thinking that you’ll be one of the people that lucks out.

    1. introverted af*

      I agree wholeheartedly, as a young millennial. It was really frustrating to hear my husband say after his recent exit interview that his boss told him, “if I see a resume with lots of job hopping every 2-3 years I get skeptical and it goes to the bottom of my list.” The company was known to underpay, although they were making some improvements. That wasn’t entirely the boss’ fault; he had been brought in to fix the department and he’s done good work on that and was a strong advocate for his team during the pandemic. However, it was just such an eye-rolling moment.

      1. Oh Snap!*

        I don’t think this is totally unreasonable. You can change jobs a few times for higher pay, but after some number of hops (which varies by the type of job) it becomes clear that you won’t stick around- and companies may be ok with that but they may not.

      2. MsClaw*

        That’s also an odd stance for the boss to take since ‘every 2-3 years’ is not unusual these days, I think. I say that as someone who’s managed to work for the same company for 20+ years (then again, they way I’ve been able to do that is by moving multiple times to other divisions/locations within the company that had work I fit into). I think that’s harder and harder to do for many people these days. If I see you’ve never been anywhere more than a year? Then I might side-eye your resume. But every 2-3 years? That’s pretty standard, at least in my line of work. I suspect this is highly variable by industry.

        1. Koalafied*

          It also depends on whether your hops are just lateral moves or upward moves. If you’re hopping every 2-3 years into a more senior role, before long you’re going to reach a level of seniority (Directors and VPs on up) where they expect the new hire to stay longer than that because 1) it takes a lot longer for a senior person to ramp up to 100% capacity in their role compared to a junior person, and 2) having high turnover in senior management tends to hamstring a company’s ability to execute on long-term priorities. You don’t want to repeatedly have a new Director/VP coming in, needing 6-12 months to really get caught up to speed and fully own their role, then wanting to or starting to make changes and not sticking around long enough to really see the changes through.

          But I would think that in any industry, anyone who’s looking down on junior or mid-career employee for moving every 2-3 is out of touch with workplace realities.

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          It does depend a lot on the industry. When I worked in food service no one would bat an eye at job hopping every year or so. In my current line of work (garbage), it’s unusual to change employers unless you’re moving to a higher position – many people stay with the same employer for most of their career.

          My impression is that AAM commentariat skews towards the types of fields that encourage frequent moves, but there are plenty of jobs where 2-3 years is barely enough time to finish training.

    2. Filosofickle*

      Yup. My first few jobs gave 1-2-3% raises, sometimes 0% and always grudgingly, and I could only get more by leaving. I hopped from 28K to 35 then 65 in a matter of 5 years. No way I could have gotten anything like those increases staying where I was.

    3. Sun Tzu*

      This is true in Europe too, where I live. (I understand this is an American blog, and reflects the workplace laws and customs in the US.) The only way to get a promotion and a raise is to apply for the job position you covet at another company.

  4. Michael Valentine*

    This is pretty much my situation, almost exactly. While the starting pay in my current position made sense while I got up to speed, keeping me there for years is silly on my employer’s part. Anyone new who came into my job would be paid considerably more, and due to my org’s quirky structure and habits, they’d either bail quickly or take years to successfully onboard and become part of the team. My boss advocates for me and gets nowhere, and he tells me he’ll be sad when I’ve had enough…he knows it’s coming eventually. For now, the benefits of staying outweigh the risks of leaving, but I don’t imagine feeling this way forever.

    1. Web Crawler*

      My department head actually told it to me straight- the only way to get paid fairly once promoted is to leave and come back, and it sucks, but this is a huge company and he doesn’t have that kind of pull.

      This sucks for me bc this company is a great fit for my neurodivergent disabled self with a domestic partner. And I don’t think other companies around have that level of support.

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      Yup. I started in my first post-college role during the 2008 recession. Wage and hiring freezes abounded so 3 years later I was still at the same rate. Meanwhile, the male intern I managed for a year (wasn’t supposed to manage him but the person who was ended up on medical leave and when they came back just never took over) was hired on at my recommendation was brought in at a starting wage about 20% above what I made. Needless to say I was not ok with that and asked for a raise to at least equal what he was at and my boss really went to bat for me. No go – raises we capped at 7% and they offered 3%. I found a new job at a 55% increase real quick. When I turned in my notice they “graciously” offered to bring me to the match rate I initially asked for. They were shocked!!! when I turned it down. Boss was not at all shocked and he left shortly after that.

      1. Coffee*

        This is infuriating. I’m glad you got a job with better pay in the end AND you got to tell them to shove it.

  5. notacompetition*

    I could have written this letter. This happened to me at my last job! I got promoted from managing one creative aspect to ALL the creative services at my office. I got a $2,500 raise and a promise for future discussions. Every time I tried to discuss it I was told I already received a significant raise. (LOL.) I left and started a consulting business. My old company is now my client and I bill them $20 more an hour for creative work. We both are really enjoying this arrangement and it’s working out great.

  6. Cobol*

    Letter Writer isn’t wrong, but… Ultimately you’ve pushed for two huge raises. I don’t doubt you’re worth much more, but ultimately I think you need to leave to get it. You really risk coming across as somebody who’s forcing the company to pay above all else (perception, not reality)

    1. Bopper*

      If an outside person could get 100k and the internal person started at 50K and then went up 20% to 60K and then another 20% to 72K, they could still be under paid. They are “worth more’ if they can go to another company and get 100k.

      1. Oh Snap!*

        You are totally right, but reality at big companies is what it is… you probably just have to leave.

        1. Komnenos*

          This is entirely what happened to me. I was able to negotiate 20% pay raises two years in a row, then I suddenly hit a wall where it was felt they had done everything reasonable to keep me happy. This was in spite of the fact I was doing two different roles, and it had been acknowledged that a new hire doing either one would have a higher salary than me.

          They had a panic attack when I tendered my resignation and brought me up to something approximating a fair pay, but the entire saga just poisoned the relationship. You could tell HR now viewed me as a problem child and I was frozen out of further training and advances.

          It was a shame, I really enjoyed the job and my team. I had stuck around for 6 years and would have continued staying there if they wanted me to. Now I’m working for a competitor at more pay and less work.

      2. Cobol*

        I agree, but see Komnenos’ story below. It’s a perfect representation of what I would worry about.

  7. Bob*

    “It makes no sense that they’d pay an outside candidate, say, $90,000 to do the same work, but you’re only worth $60,000.”
    Unfortunately it makes perfect sense, they are cheap and short sighted.
    They are gambling that you won’t leave and when you don’t they pocket the difference. And many bosses/employers are so conceited that when employees do leave they are shocked.

    Try Alison’s solution but if it doesn’t work then i would suggest finding a better paying job elsewhere. Moving jobs is no fun but you deserve to be paid for your work instead of being financially taken advantage of.
    They might try to offer a token raise, don’t fall for it. Insist on market wages.

    1. TiredMama*

      And obviously it is a good gamble because LW says they won’t leave. There must be something of value that they know they have that makes LW not leave.

        1. James*

          I wouldn’t say sad. It’s just a question of priorities. A lot of people decide that the work a company is doing, or the culture, or whatever is worth the cut in pay–lawyers working for non-profit or charitable organizations, for example (not all of them, obviously, but it’s the cliché). I make a LOT more than most geologists working in universities, but I doubt any adjunct professor would trade jobs with me even if my salary were doubled. The benefits of working in the university system outweigh the benefits of increased pay, at least in their minds.

          The issue is that there are two competing priorities: 1) better pay, and 2) some unspecified benefit of working at the company the LW is at. Until that’s specified, it’s impossible for anyone but the LW to know which is better. I’d imagine that even if it is specified the LW would be the only one to know.

          1. Artemesia*

            Add that to 25 years of work or 35 and into retirement and they look at an entirely different future. Maybe they would love to travel or move to a new area or be able to afford heat in winter — and decades of sub par pay mean that their final years are stingy rather than secure and generous. You pay a big cost for ‘loyalty’ or being willing to accept pay well below standard. Obviously sometimes it is the best you can do because of location demands or the spouses job is not movable etc — but don’t let ‘comfort’ dictate being cheated out of the compensation you deserve and the happy retirement you will want some day.

    2. JSPA*

      It also makes sense in that they took a known quantity over the huge range of possible unknowns that they might have gotten in an open search. They know OP is far from the worst they could have landed, but they don’t know (because they didn’t do the search) that OP is among the best, or even average. OP may of course be excellent, at any price! But the company promoted them as “excellent at the price, and they’re already our person.”

      Separately, there may have been room in the budget for, “OP doing some X, which OP is actually very good at” but not room in the budget for “an X specialist at normal rates.” That is, outside of OP looking to do more of that work, and the employer agreeing that there’s enough of that work to justify paying OP to do some of it, there’s no sign that employer planned to have anyone doing that job.

      OP, those are reasonable limits from the employer’s POV. At some point, you can argue that they’re seeing greatly improved [metric] on the basis of your work, that there’s no way they’d want to be without an [X specialist] moving forward, and that if they have to replace you, they’ll need to expect to pay at least [10% under median pay] to get someone very average.

      But in these strange times, those metrics are hard to come by, and also hard to extrapolate from. I’d compile the data, and floor them with it a few months from now, not here and now.

    3. Forrest*

      Well the other possibility is that the role just isn’t worth $90k to *them*. If it’s a nice to have for the company, but not essential, then it may not be adding $90k of value to the company. If it’s something they’re happy to have for $60k but basically they can truck along fine without someone analysing and creating amazing visuals of the teapot data, or there is only enough teapot data that it would only cost $60k to outsource, then it doesn’t make sense to pay LW $90k.

      Your labour might not be worth $90k to *this company*.

      1. KHB*

        That’s a really good point. If the work really, truly isn’t worth $90K to this employer – to the point where if they had to choose between hiring somebody for $90K and hiring nobody, they’d hire nobody – it doesn’t really matter what the same work is worth to other employers. You’re never going to get $90K for it out of this one.

        And it sounds like that very well might be the case, since the employer was perfectly content not to have anybody doing this work before LW came along.

      2. TardyTardis*

        Sure, this person’s labor isn’t worth 90k, *because they get away with paying an internal person lower*. If the internal person wasn’t there, they would pay an outside person 90k.

        1. KHB*

          Do we know that they would have done that, though? The position was created for the OP, so at no point was the employer even considering hiring an outside person for it.

    4. cncx*

      yup, i got a friend who was refused a raise with a promotion while also doing her old job (so essentially doing two jobs), she only asked for another 10k which is low under the circumstances in our area and with the 10k her annual salary still would still have been 25k lower than the normal salary for the job she was promoted to.

      Anyway they refused and she quit. to replace her they had to hire two people at 100k each because they were too cheap to throw her only 10K.

  8. Cat Tree*

    Yeah, I’ve seen this nonsense at a bad company. I’m an engineer and was recruited from another company for a mid level position. I think the pay was mostly fair for my position and experience, although maybe a little on the low side. So I became friends with another engineer in my department, doing similar work but supporting a different manufacturing area. She had started at a position she was way over qualified for during a recession, then eventually moved into that role from within. I was really surprised when she mentioned qualifying for government benefits. We never discussed our salary directly, but based on her number of kids and knowing that her husband also worked, I realized she must have made about half of what I made. She had no idea what was normal for the industry and I have often wondered if I should have said something. That place was toxic and would never double her salary, but she could have used that info to look for jobs elsewhere.

    1. Cthulhu’s Librarian*

      In the future, and for others reading this who migh find themselves in the same boat – please speak up when you find out about a disparity like this, or even suspect it might exist. If we can all become a little more comfortable discussing our pay, everyone will benefit.

      Not saying anything is how these things become institutionalized

      1. Dasein9*

        Yes indeed! I find people respond better when I share what I earn instead of asking what they earn. If they seem uneasy, I just explain I’m not fishing for info, just sharing because that’s an ethical thing to do.

      1. Clorinda*

        Yes, and the thing you should have said was “This is what I am being paid” so she’d have actual numbers with which to make her decision!

      2. Firecat*

        I’ve had bad experiences with this.

        I suspect Jen is underpaid so I casually drop my salary so she knows. Jen balks – she’s only making $X – 30%!

        She goes to the boss – complains and mentions I told her my salary. They fix her salary a little (think up 15%) and then come down on me hard. Negative note in my performance review – think something like “needs to be better at discretion with private and sensitive information”. Which in a financial industry is pretty damning! Yeah it’s illegal retaliation and protected under the NLRB but how many employees have it explicit in their handbooks that salary is private?

        Meanwhile Jen is now upset at me too. I get paid so much more then her why should she help me with Y or cover me when I’m out?

        Employers are great at diverting the blame and anger for their shitty behavior from themselves onto the victims coworkers.

        So yeah it’s not as simple as “speak up cause it’s the right thing to do!” each time. I definitely got burned more then once and I keep my mouth shut now. I feel bad for people who are underpaid – Im sure I am also underpaid, but I can’t always be the martyr either.

        1. Batgirl*

          I’ve always found this kind of thing has to be dealt with anonymously through a union but not everyone has one of those.

      3. Cat Tree*

        Ok look, this kind of comment isn’t helpful. Of course in hindsight I realize that, but we were both young and grew up in a culture where discussing that kind of thing is really taboo. To tell someone they did wrong years after the fact, without even considering the context won’t make for meaningful change in society.

        1. Tuesday*

          I totally get it — things look different now, but when you’re in the middle of it, and you’re young and not that experienced yourself, it would be hard to know what to do, especially with something like $$ that’s not easy to talk about even today. And that’s before adding on the fact that it was a bad work environment. I find it useful when people post things about difficult situations in the past or even past regrets, but that won’t happen if people are like, “Wait, why didn’t you do this instead??”

        2. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

          Soft disagree. This kind of comment isn’t for the commenter it’s responding to – it’s for the people scrolling through the comments who also wonder if they should speak up. Cat Tree, you can’t do anything about it. That is true. But another person who sees your story and that comment might internalize your mistake so they don’t make the same one.

          It’s the same reason I argue with idiots on the internet about the COVID Vaccines being safe and other issues. I am not trying to convince the person I am arguing with – that’s a lost cause. Rather, I am commenting for all the lurkers who might not have yet made up their minds and who could be swayed by the misinformation if it weren’t refuted.

  9. KHB*

    Question for those familiar with the relevant law: Are policies like this a legally acceptable reason for a salary disparity that also involves a protected characteristic?

    Hypothetical example (nothing to do with my actual job, don’t worry): Say I’m hired as an Associate Teapot Painter at $40K a year. After a year, I’m promoted all the way up to Senior Teapot Designer, a position with a market rate of $80K, but because of the company’s salary raise cap, they’ll only pay me $50K. All the company’s other Senior Teapot Designers (who are paid the market rate) are male, and I’m female. Is this illegal?

    1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

      IANAL

      I did receive a significant raise in a similar position because when legal was reviewing a new Llama Grooming Account Specialist’s job offer, legal threw red flags that HIS pay was going to be roughly 2x mine, yet I had experience, a degree, and a decade of seniority. Whether it was illegal or not, they knew that paying me (she/her) less than him was going to at least look bad, if not be a problem.

    2. Payroll Lady*

      Probably 100% illegal but unfortunately the only way the employer will change is when they are caught, fined and penalized otherwise it’s hypothetical

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s illegal unless it’s based on an established system of merit or seniority pay. Seniority pay typically means someone who’s been doing that role for 10 years can earn more than someone who’s been doing it for one year.

      1. KHB*

        Thanks. I guess my question was whether these raise-cap-shenanigans qualify as part of an “established system of merit or seniority pay.” Sounds like the answer is no.

        1. sacados*

          Sounds like it would depend on whether all the other Senior Teapot Designers making $80K had been STDs (pun mostly unintended?) for 10 years and arrived at this salary gradually, so 10 years from now you also could expect to be making the same.

        2. meyer lemon*

          My (excessively non-expert) read is that you and anyone else coming in with the same experience should be paid the same, whether you’re internal or external. If someone new comes in with several more years of experience, or if someone has been in the role for years, they can make more if that’s standard practice for the company.

      2. doreen*

        It can also be related to seniority at an employer. My employer has fairly rigid pay scales – if you are hired from outside as a Grade 22 title, you start at $69 K and each year you get a $2294 raise until you reach the top pay of $88K . But if you are promoted internally and were earning top pay of $75K as a grade 19, you will get an automatic 6% raise for a 3 grade promotion , which means the internal promotee starts at $79.5K. (and still get the raise every year until they reach top pay). It’s a rare instance of people hired from outside earning less, and has much to do with unions. The difference disappears once both people reach the top of the pay scale.

    4. irene adler*

      Good question. Hope folks will have a definitive answer.

      I’m betting management will argue that you lack the same amount of experience -on the job as a Sr. Teapot Designer -that the other Sr. Teapot Designers have. Hence, you get the lower salary.

      1. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

        A previous employer (which was a large (3500 people), publicly traded company) had a blanket rule that no raises could be over 10%, even with a job/title change. 15% was theoretically possible but only with the CEO’s personal approval.

        1. JSPA*

          Back when information was in physical folders, transparency was near nil, and promotion was something of a free-for-all, this was sometimes instituted as a semi-justifiable tool to prevent people from forming fiefdoms and allegiances within the larger company structure, via dramatic personal favoritism in promotions and pay.

          It somewhat counters, “reminds me of me at his age” and “I like the cut of his jib” and “trading favors” behavior (and all the ills those things produce). It also stops glib flim-flammers from BS-ing their way up the ladder at ridiculously accelerated speeds (which in the coke-fueled 80’s and 90’s was–from my vantage point at least–quite the epidemic).

          There are better tools now.

    5. boop the first*

      Whoa this is literally what happened to me. Small potatoes ($15K/year job), but still, I was the longest running employee by far, the only one trained for all positions, the only one with a key to the place, AND I was doing my manager’s work for him, which nobody else had to worry about.
      All other staff were paid a whole $2/hour more than I was. Even the specific person I’d replaced, who had less training and fewer years than me was paid more, so boss had to have known, which makes it look completely intentional.
      I was the only woman.

      Unfortunately for me, I’ve never been able to take a new job without having to take a notable pay CUT, so I get punished for both leaving AND staying.

  10. joss*

    It is very short-sighted from companies to do this but I have seen it happening more and more over the years. As a result the companies who engage in this behavior keep losing their best employees and serve as the training ground for the ones that pay better and don’t necessarily want to do any of the training themselves.
    Logic has little to do with this; it is a lack of long-term planning in favor of short term gain by companies IMO

    1. Firecat*

      Honestly I think it all comes down to share holders. American businesses, for the most part, are driven solely by shareholder values. How frequently are shareholders updated? Quarterly. So for the most part many businesses aren’t thinking much past the next quarter and maximizing their profits against last quarters projections. It’s how Amazon’s share dropped massively with a 39% profit margin because it was less then predicted – I forget the year…2012 maybe?

  11. Jean*

    Sympathies, OP. And solidarity. I work for a “Money isn’t everything/high pay doesn’t motivate people” type of boss, who has no understanding of the concept that pay DOES motivate people – to seek outside opportunities offering higher pay. Just some food for thought I guess. Best of luck.

    1. KHB*

      Money isn’t everything, but it is very much A thing. And people can be motivated by things other than high pay (e.g., praise and recognition for a job well done) – but only if those other things are actually present. A boss who explicitly refuses to pay people what they’re worth, on the grounds that employees should be motivated without high pay, sounds like he might also be stingy with compliments and other motivators, for the same reasons.

      Here’s hoping that one of those outside opportunities comes your way soon, if you want it to.

      1. Jean*

        Thank you, I appreciate that. And as far as the motivation thing goes, I agree that high pay doesn’t necessarily motivate people, but that’s not the point. The point is that you should pay people what they’re worth, because otherwise you lose good people, that you paid to train, when they end up pursuing better opportunities.

    2. Batgirl*

      People who are already working there value the boss’s kindly wisdom (micromanaging) and Staff Appreciation Day measures where you are gifted tat and forced joy. That’s before it’s even time to break out the Hannukah Balls. How can outsiders possibly know how great it is to work for a boss such as this? Alas, outsiders must be baited with filthy lucre until their loyalty can be bagged on home ground.

    3. Arvolin*

      There are situations in which “Money isn’t everything” applies, and raises aren’t good motivators, but these situations always seem to happen when people are already making reasonable money. Underpaying is a great demotivator.

  12. CupcakeCounter*

    At my first post-college job I had a phenomenal coworker and even better head of department. Head of Department pulled coworker aside and told him flat out the company wasn’t going to pay him what he is worth and he should leave as soon as his required 6–months stay for tuition reimbursement for his MBA was complete. HoD helped him get a great job at more than a 50% increase and then hired him back in 3 years at another 50%+ increase. Had he stayed the whole time he would have forfeited close to $100k.
    Good boss.

  13. Kaysong*

    I know someone that moved out of a low-level admin role to a brand new position that required her to get several certifications with the support of her manager. They only gave her a small raise when she initially moved and then a cost of living raise when they did yearly raises. They did pay for all costs associated with getting the certifications though.

    Every time she received a certification, she would ask for a raise because she felt the certifications were adding value to her position. And, every time, they would turn her down because she had just gotten a raise at the yearly review. A new CFO was hired and she sent him an email (cc’ing her boss who had been advocating for her but not getting anywhere with the prior CFO) explaining all the reasons she should be getting a 50% raise. She wasn’t wrong but the new CFO heard all about the previous requests and the tone of her email was demanding so the decision was made that she was disgruntled and they let her go.

    She was devastated but within a month she had a new job making 150% more than she had been making. She loves the new company and really feels valued.

    The old company lost someone great in that role because HR/CFO wouldn’t listen to her manager that the role she moved into was worth way more than they were paying her.

      1. cncx*

        i mentioned upthread about a friend who was doing two jobs, one she came in for and one she was promoted to plus tons of overtime (the person hired to replace her for job one called in at least two days a week), asked for a 10k a year raise which was still significantly below market for the job she was promoted to. She got fed up and quit and is now making market somewhere else. The man hired to replace her for job number 2 was brought in at DOUBLE her salary. And while he was external and that was the market rate, i think it’s pretty telling that they didn’t want to part with 10 k for my friend.

        1. Kaysong*

          It’s surprising how often a company doesn’t realize what it takes to do a particular position. Whether that is money or having an employee capable of doing more than average for a position.

      2. Secondee*

        Yes, I’ve seen this too. Usually it happens because the female didn’t negotiate as hard when they came in to the organisation. Then with the internal salary cap, they are forever disadvantaged even if they are a stronger performer than their male counterparts. Makes me so annoyed.

  14. Purely Allegorical*

    It seems like the LW has already used an outside offer to negotiate a higher raise, which is what Alison recommended… what happens next? If LW tries that tactic again, I don’t see it ending very well — LW starts to look perpetually dissatisfied (rightly or wrongly) and that will have repercussions on their current employment. There’s only so many times you can use that tactic before you have to be willing to actually leave.

    I suppose LW could leave their current company to get the pay raise somewhere else, and then boomerang back to their current company at a more competitive rate if their ultimate goal is to be at that particular company. But that route has a lot of risks.

    1. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

      LW is between a rock (won’t leave the company) and a hard place (company won’t pay more). LW is only in control of the rock.

    2. A nonny one*

      Yeah, unfortunately I kind of agree. OP can keep presenting their great work every year and pushing for the max raise, but beyond that, at this point they kind of have to choose between staying and accepting being underpaid, or leaving (ideally with the chance of returning later at a higher rate, but that’s never guaranteed).
      I’ve been there and it’s frustrating – in my case I was sticking around for a bit but had pretty much concluded overall that I’d have to leave to fix my salary, but luckily they did end up giving me a raise outside of the normal cycle and constraints because ‘your salary hasn’t kept up with the market’. That said, the gap in my situation wasn’t as large as in OP’s, and it sounds like she already has got a large raise after the promotion, so I agree it will make it difficult for her to keep pushing.

  15. Smithy*

    In addition to this being wildly common – I think the other reality is that it pushes people to constantly be seeking promotions for their own sake. Essentially, if you’re able to receive promotions/internal transfers every 6 mos to 2 years, then you see your salary grow at a rate that feels more aligned to market value.

    1. J.E.*

      I work as staff at a public University and I was thinking the same thing. Every position is underpaid, but people stay because of the generally good benefits, generous time off and work-life balance. If any of these benefits ever gets cut or cut way back I can see people leaving. If I’m going to have to pay more for my insurance and not get nearly as much vacation time, I’ll go to the private sector and get paid more at least.

  16. Whirlybird*

    My company does this too, and I hate it. I’ve pushed for folks under me to get higher raises and had their salary grades increased, but just can’t get HR to budge on the internal promotion salary cap. We’ve lost really great people because of it and we will continue to lose them until this policy changes.

  17. RJ*

    I’ve seen this and boy have I lived this as well. OP, I feel your pain and thought I know there are many reasons people stay at jobs other than salary, I’ve found it’s important to place a high value on yourself and the work you do. It’s a tough decision, I know, but to get the salary you deserve you’ll need to leave your company and boomerang back or possibly find an even better place that values you fully and compensates you as you deserve.

  18. AdAgencyChick*

    I am really curious whether anyone has seen this done *right*. This sort of treatment in my industry is SO common, and it’s why the average tenure at a single company of people on my career path is usually about 18 months for the first 5-10 years of someone’s career, then people start to stay at a place longer once they’ve built their salary. I hate it, it’s shortsighted, but it’s an industry-wide problem that I’m powerless to change.

    I’ve heard so many horror stories, it would be nice to know there are companies out there who do this right.

    1. tg*

      Conversely, I have seen people get very valuable experience from moving between jobs, instead of being stuck in only one way to do the job.

    2. Smithy*

      This would be interesting to hear what a good example might look like in other industries.

      In mine what’s happened is that you have some places where you really can’t move up unless you switch organizations. Or, you have organizations that have very hierarchical systems that allow for lots of promotions over time as the only way to provide any meaningful raises. However the flip side, is that you end up with a heavy hierarchy that can make actually working in those places fairly miserable and blurs the lines between what a Sr Manager does compared to an Associate Director.

      One version is really frustrating for personal growth, while the other I find frustrating in a working environment.

    3. Rock-Me-HardPlace*

      Hi! I’m the OP for this letter. And I just want to say, I, too, work in your industry and it’s a sad type of comfort to hear it’s prevalent in the industry.

      1. Lord Peter Wimsey*

        I agree with Ad Agency Chick and chiming in with additional industry perspective (purely anecdotal; I’m out of the ad business now): entry-level/early-career salaries were often quite low (partly due to a large supply of people who wanted to work in the industry relative to demand for workers, also the non-salary perks in the industry tended to make up a bit for the low pay). Title inflation (not necessarily linked with salary inflation) was quite common. Also, turnover tended to be quite high–yes, voluntary turnover, but even more so involuntary. Something to keep in mind when thinking about a long-term career in this industry.

  19. tg*

    I’ve seen this happening since the ’90’s at least. Does the OP say why they don’t want to leave? Unfortunately, along with being underpaid comes a lack of respect for the person who is being underpaid…

    1. Rock-Me-HardPlace*

      I don’t want to leave because I love the place, and the people, and the work. :( I’ve had every intention of retiring from there…30 years from now. So it’s a tough decision/thought process.

      1. IT Guy*

        Most organizations don’t last 30 years. I like mine, but I’d like to retire someday too and it’s a bit tough when you’re underpaid.

        1. Rock-Me-HardPlace*

          This is true! Though mine has been going strong since the 70s.

          Tough, un-fun decisions to be sure.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        There’s a place I worked at for over a decade. Loved the work, my coworkers were fantastic, and the pension plan is one of the best and rarest to get anywhere in my country.

        But…their payrise system was archaic, rigid pay bands that were not adjusted for inflation, at most a few percent increase if you got promoted, caps on pay regardless of how well you worked etc. It got to the point where I was struggling to pay for my commute to work.

        I still adore that place. Many of the people I worked with are still good friends many years later (they ARE still at the firm) but my career and pay took major leaps in the 3 jobs I’ve held since leaving. Maybe I’ll go back one day.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          (Btw that company had been in existence, in some form, for over a century. Changed names a lot!)

  20. Ann Perkins*

    I’m in this position too and this post was very helpful. Now some employers can also throw up their hands and say “sorry, covid” for a while longer even though they’d be able to pay more if the employee left for a better job and they had to replace her. That’s what mine is doing. I’m looking for a new job but unfortunately have a pretty niche role where it might be a while for the right opportunity to come along.

  21. Majnoona*

    This is the norm in academic, at least at the top schools forcing people on the job market fairly frequently (once you’re tenured)

    1. Carol*

      Staff side, too. With how little merit is available year after year, and with rising cost of living, I’m making less now than when I started in my job, even with consistent raises.

  22. Clorinda*

    Money isn’t everything. But it is a lot of the things. Go get a job that pays you fairly for your work.

  23. I've been in EXACTLY that situation*

    There’s more to life than money, and if everything else about the job is perfect, staying for now makes sense, while you take your time finding a better job. The other commenters are correct that given the dynamic your situation has exposed, your value to that company will NEVER be recognized or respected the way it will be at your next job. It’s not just a money thing, it’s about autonomy, respect, opportunities etc.

    Alison’s advice in NY mag was good too, and I would add this: Internal candidates already know the organization and how it operates, but some organizations want to bring in fresh eyes and new thinking, and internal candidates are seen as unable to learn new moves. External candidates, who will be learning the culture and players from scratch, may be seen as more able to think outside the box and not get bogged down in “because we’ve always done it this way” habit.

  24. Going Anon For Reasons*

    This is how it works especially for ops/support jobs where I’m at (gov’t lab, though managed through a contracting firm). There are those that earn degrees/certs to get better jobs, and are routinely passed over, and have to leave and come back to get hired (I know several that have done this). And then the “lucky few” are offered a job that should pay more because of more responsibility, switching to salary (so no overtime), and getting a reduction in sick time (their thought is as salary you have more flexibility to make up time), and all they offer is 0-2% pay increase.

    This happened to me earlier this year. It didn’t matter I pointed out all the reasons why I should get paid more, they weren’t open to negotiation at all. I was told I was “lucky” they were even offering an “admin” the job, and after all this was the type of work I wanted to do and isn’t that enough reason to take it? I was like, “uh, no” and turned it down, which they were pissed about so probably won’t be able to apply for that department again anytime soon. Found out through the grapevine the person they hired in from outside was paid about what I had asked for (who only has the minimum education/experience, when I had twice that).

    1. Very anon too*

      You’re not alone. Fellow gov lab worker and after being informed that they don’t promote internally based on job descriptions used when hiring from the outside, but instead “professional level” as determined by managers and then only for a maximum of 4 people out of every 100 in my division each year, I’m looking at job ads for other companies. There’s no professional growth opportunities on the ops/support/infrastructure side, only on the sides that report to Congress or other federal high levels and therefore have priority funding. Great place to get beginning job experience, cruddy place to try and have a career.

  25. Pennycress*

    I feel this so much. Just went through this process after three years of supervisors promising a bump “soon” and “we are working on it”. If finally happened, but just after they redid the classification/salary structure, so their “generous” reclassification salary bump is still 7 grand under the old benchmark for the work I’m doing and a little under 20K of what others are being paid that are producing half of what I am. So tired, but like the OP, I like my work and don’t really want to start over again somewhere else. Good luck OP and know you are not alone in choosing to stay.

  26. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Again, going back to the IS/IT situations I’ve encountered in a LONG career – sometimes, your compensation depends on your willingness to move forward and on to other situations.

    It’s NEVER fun to have to go hunting for a new job. And it’s never pleasant to use what we call “the gun”… to get your current management to pay your fairly, or give you the promotion you earned, you have to resign.

    But … it’s the way it is, too often. It shouldn’t be that way, but that’s the reality of the workplace. I learned that at an early age, and had to use brinkmanship several times in my long career. It’s never pleasant.

    The good thing is, most companies have an “off budget” slush fund to handle these situations. “There’s no money in the budget” doesn’t mean “we don’t have the money in another fund to cover this”… this varies, company to company, office to office.

    The worst situation, of course, is being passed over for a position you’ve been groomed for ; while management can adjust a bad salary / bad title situation if pressed (and if they want to) — if you were passed over and have to train the person who got the slot YOU worked for and expected. management can’t relent and reverse themselves without looking a) indecisive and b) like they are being controlled by an employee. In that case, you might want to have a serious discussion but if it results in ridiculous rationalizations, you have to move on.

  27. Svengali*

    “That said, I have no interest in leaving my workplace; I intend to stay there for a very long time and while the money isn’t everything, it is still something.”

    This is your problem.

    1. Carol*

      Yeah, unfortunately, these companies rarely learn and generally you won’t be the one to change them. Even if there’s a lot you like about your current job you end up having to leave just to keep your salary in line with the market.

      Even with regularly receiving merit raises/good performance ratings, the only way I’ve managed to really move the needle on my salary is by moving to a different company.

  28. KayAay*

    I don’t have much experience here, but I thought this was the norm (although not desirable). I knew of one place that had a policy of either no more than a 15% pay increase for internal hires, or to the bottom of the new pay bracket, whichever was higher. This mean someone who started at the minimum for their role could be awesome, get promoted to the bottom salary of the new role, be awesome and get promoted again, to the bottom salary of the new role, etc. In other words, if you started low at the company and work your way up, unless you fight for big merit increases along the way, you could always remain at a lower pay than other people doing your same role.

  29. Roquefort*

    In economics, there’s a concept called “opportunity cost”: what you lose by choosing one option over another. LW, as it stands, the opportunity cost of staying with your current employer is the gap between your current salary and what you would make if paid at an average rate for your industry. The opportunity cost of leaving, obviously, is getting to work for that particular employer. Which of those is ultimately worth more to you is something only you can answer. Nobody here knows the specific pros and cons of working at your organization, how hard it would be to find another job in your field, or how much you’re willing to sacrifice your preferred lifestyle in order to get by on your current salary.

    One caution I’d add is to make sure that you aren’t staying with the current employer just because you’re afraid of job-searching. Not having to endure temporary discomfort (within reason, of course) is almost never a good reason to do something.

  30. Retro*

    My organization recently lost a great internal candidate to this problem. And there was a shade of sexism cast over the situation as well. Jane interviewed and received an offer for marketing manager. The previous marketing manager is a man and pulled Jane aside to let her know how much he was paid. There wasn’t much seniority or years with the company difference between the two. Because of internal HR rules, they only gave Jane an 8% bump up and that would put her squarely 10% lower than previous marketing manager’s salary. She negotiated for an increase and the general consensus (which I think comes from sexism) is that she should be happy she’s getting the position at all and how dare she ask for more money?! But Jane knew her worth, turned down the job, and promptly found another one outside of the organization. The hiring team then spent another 3 months interviewing candidates before the position was filled.

    It’s not just bad practice, it’s bad for business too!

    1. The New Wanderer*

      Applause to the departing marketing manager who recognized how much it would be worth to Jane to let her know his salary before he left!

      I’m betting that the company had to pay at least the original manager’s salary if not more to the new hire, after losing 3 mos of having someone in the position – costly mistake for them to cheap out on the internal candidate.

      1. SpangleBob*

        This is why I’m very much pro-discussing salaries in the workplace. Jane might have known what the average salary for that role in the area was, but without the previous marketing manager’s input, she could very well have assumed that the lower salary was the norm for this company.

  31. EngineerMom*

    Just came to say… some companies have internal caps on raises.

    The company I work for (which is pretty big) limits raises to 15%. Beyond that, you have to get approval through multiple levels of management, and the whole thing can get tanked by HR’s budgeting.

    So it might also just be that internal requirements prevent them from giving you a crazy-high percentage raise.

    Reason #1 why negotiating up front can be so critical! The job I have at this company was a 50% raise on top of my salary at my previous job. A lot more responsibility, room for growth, and higher expectations to go with that higher salary, too ;-)

  32. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

    I think if you want to be fairly, you’ll have to be prepared to leave unfortunately.
    You like your job otherwise so you can take a long time in your job search to find a really great job. You could try to leverage the other job offer for a fair wage, or you could take the new job. I know this flips your career plan on its head but if you’re not at least willing to move on, the next 30 years with this company will be at an offensively low salary.

  33. Mannheim Steamroller*

    Lots of companies actual have policies (officially or not) requiring outside hires to automatically be paid more than internal promotions. It stinks. The only way around it is to be promoted out of your company, then be promoted back in.

  34. TotesAnon*

    I feel like this is speaking to me. I advocated for my title/pay to match the job I’ve been doing. Finally, after months my title got changed. I had to apply for it (huh?) with my resume and everything. The job title on the company’s job board said “Internal Promotion Llama Herder”. Ok, promotion, sweet.

    I get my offer letter, and it says there will be no changes to my compensation. Yes, there was a major record scratch.

    I spoke with my boss, she said that she had advocated for a raise and had been told that there wouldn’t be one because of… I spoke with HR… I spoke with my grandboss and finally got a straight-ish answer on the situation. He said that because I was already making more than the average Llama Herder in my area (surprise, I’m not), he didn’t see any reason to raise my compensation. And even if they did raise my pay, it wouldn’t take affect until the end OF THE YEAR because of Policy. Eleven months away, dear reader. But you know, if I worked hard, maybe they’ll be extra sure to give me a good raise (we traditionally only get a COL “raise”). I know how much my next lowest paid coworker makes; there’s a 2 digit disparity.

    I cannot begin to explain how deeply unvalued I feel. Major bait and switch feels right now. Any loyalty I may have had to this company is absolutely gone.

    1. SpangleBob*

      When you get a new job, make sure to send a nice card to the grandboss stating your current salary and thanking him for encouraging you to seek greener pastures. (Okay, maybe don’t actually do that, but still… he really thought you would just accept “you’re already overpaid and anyway we can’t because of Policy” as a reason?)

    2. Anonymous Hippo*

      You had to apply for this promotion, and they didn’t even give you a raise? That’s horrible.

  35. Clementine*

    Two job changes ago, my soon to be new employer would not send a formal offer until I had verbally agreed to all the terms and tentatively agreed to take the job. I think this was to avoid being used as a way to get a higher offer at my then-current company. It’s hard to say how common this is, but it’s not necessarily straightforward to get a competing offer written down that you can share. I know it’s not always possible, but I prefer to jump to the company freely offering more than to try to get a recalcitrant company to pony up.

  36. Home Away from Work*

    Two jobs ago I got a mid year promotion with a very small increase. At annual COLA time, they prorated my increase because I had already gotten an increase that year. Kind of shocking to me— prorated COLA. The only way to get a significant raise at that company was to show them an offer from another company. They didn’t care if you were under market rate. I loved my boss, but after 6 years…

    I jumped to Last Job, and took a 10% jump in salary. I was given a significant raise when HR did industry salary comparisons. They brought me from the bottom of the bell curve to the 75th percentile within 5 years, with at least 5% bumps the other years. Ten years later…

    Current Job was another $12K jump in salary, with other benefits. As much as I hated leaving positions I enjoyed and where I was (mostly) appreciated, sometimes the best choice is a move. I have to think about funding my retirement. While I’m a loyal employee, I do not owe my employer my life. I have to think of my employment as a business decision.

  37. Secondee*

    OP, I am in similar shoes. Last year my Assoc Director (AD) wanted to move to another role. Director was supportive so arranged for me to do a secondment into AD’s role. I received an increase in salary then. My AD and I had a really good relationship so she told me that if I ended up permanent in the role, to ask for more money. After 10 months into the secondment, the role was advertised internally and I applied and got it. Director was strongly supportive and had asked me to apply. I was the preferred and only candidate.

    That same week, Director announced that he was moving to another role internally so I would be reporting to Acting Director. HR then sent me the offer letter and the salary was just rounded up to the nearest 10k (an increase of 1.5k from my secondment salary). When I tried to negotiate to ask for more citing the large team size and my proven 10 months into the role, I was told that I was still new and therefore the salary reflected it. I was given the usual spiel about having my salary reviewed if I performed well the next review. I had no support from Director as he was no longer engaged in the process. Acting Director was too new to do anything. And so because I never wanted to leave, I accepted the salary anyway.

    I love my team, the flexible hours and the growth opportunities I have at this company. OP, I too understand why you would choose to stay.

    Six months later I had the opportunity to promote someone in my team. HR cited the same spiel that they shouldn’t get the full salary yet because they were just becoming a new team leader and managing for the first time. I had another direct report (male) who was getting paid the full salary. I pushed back hard on HR explaining that I would be expecting the new team leader to carry out the same responsibilities as the other team leader. And that I didn’t want to contribute to the gender pay gap in my own team. HR finally agreed and both my direct reports are now on equal pay.

    I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish someone would have done the same for me. I did feel that way and I still do. However I know that I can be that change for my team.

    Maybe one day I will find the courage to move on. Just wanted to encourage all of you who manage others, please review the salaries of the people on your team. Check with HR as to their benchmarks as you are the only one who will have the visibility and authority to fight for them.

  38. Hedgehog O'Brien*

    Oh, this happened to me. Not the part where they changed my salary behind my back but the “we can’t pay you market rate because it would be too big of a raise” part. At my last job, my responsibilities shifted over time from manager-level to director-level but my title and salary didn’t change to reflect that for a long time. I was also de-facto responsible for the work of employees who did not report to me, so the eventual promotion made sure that a) my title actually reflected my work and my high performance, and b) the areas I was responsible for by default actually reported to me. I did a *ton* of benchmarking research (my employer didn’t benchmark salaries at the time – shocker) and came back with a range and a desired salary. What they offered me was a 10% raise, but I would need a 15% raise to get to the very bottom of the range I’d proposed. I said I wasn’t comfortable with 10%, because my research had been very thorough and I had based it off of similar organizations in similar markets, with roles that had a similar scope of responsibilities. Their response was “this is already a big raise for you,” so I pushed back that I should be paid based on the market value and not based on my previous salary. They finally agreed to bump me up the 5% to the literal bottom of the market range but they assured me that it wasn’t really the bottom of the range and that this was an average salary for my role.

    Spoiler alert: When that company finally did start benchmarking salaries, the range for my role was almost exactly the range I had come up with from my research, like within $1K on either side. My boss basically lied to me in my annual review and told me I was in the middle of my range but didn’t show me the actual numbers, so I went to our HR manager and asked to see my salary range, and it was exactly what I thought it was and I was still at the bottom. I eventually did leave for the same role at a much smaller company, for more money and better benefits. Go figure.

  39. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Be lucky you even get a COLA. Many don’t.

    I do know one thing – if a manager withholds pay – in Massachusetts that is CRIMINAL. And my assumption is if they impose a pay cut on you on day 1, that’s withholding salary.

    Ever see a manager squirm in his office as the police come to visit?

  40. Carol*

    Ugh, this happened to me, and honestly with how little I made at the time it would have cost the company peanuts to make it right. It wasn’t a small business or anything, and they brought in outside hires at very attractive salaries, so it was definitely possible. But since I was already working below market, they just didn’t think they had to.

    When I left for a significant raise, they had to hire two people to replace me, and they had to offer each of them at least $10-15k more than I had been making.

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