Help Wanted: Bias on merit raises?

A new report said the Treasury Department approved A new report said the Treasury Department approved all 18 requests it received last year to raise pay for executives at American International Group Inc., General Motors Corp. and Ally Financial Inc. Photo Credit: iStock

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Carrie Mason-Draffen Newsday columnist Carrie Mason Draffen

Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues. ...

DEAR CARRIE: I work at the U.S. headquarters of a small European airline. Over the past several years the unofficial company policy has been to give a yearly salary increase to one person per department based on the head manager's recommendation. The departments are small and range from four to eight people. Sometimes the managers make exceptions and give more than one person a raise. But I have not received this merit increase for three years, even though my yearly review is always excellent. When I question the lack of a raise, I am always told that I make more money than others in my department. I have worked here the longest and am the oldest. Other than this being unfair, is this practice legal?

-- Raising Objections

DEAR RAISING: Though the policy seems unfair, it's probably legal. New York State labor laws don't require companies to give raises, unless a union or employment contract requires them to do so. So employers can set the terms, as long as they don't discriminate on the basis of such things as age, race, gender or religion. Since you make more than others in your department, you may have difficulty proving discrimination.

A career expert said your situation may not be as dire as you believe.

"If a department has four people and only one person gets a pay increase, then a person would get an increase every four years on average, assuming all are good performers," said Kate Wendleton, president of The Five O'Clock Club, a Manhattan career-management and outplacement firm. "You got a pay increase three years ago. In those departments where there are eight people, a manager is justified in asking for a pay increase for more than one person, or those employees would have to wait eight years to get a pay increase."

And she said the company's policy on raises may tie the manager's hand for a top-scale earner like you.

"Some companies are not allowed to pay someone more than the top of the range," Wendleton said.

Still, you shouldn't give up trying to get more monetary recognition for your work. But you may have to work harder to convince your boss.

"You have your work cut out for you," Wendleton said. "You have to quantify what you have contributed over and above others in that same range or quantify why you should be in a higher range."

Here is what she recommends:

Get serious: On a sheet of paper, draw two columns. In the left column list your job responsibilities. On the right side, which should be considerably longer, list your accomplishments that rise above standard performance.

Request a formal meeting with your boss and state your case by using the chart you developed. Start the meeting on a positive note by telling your boss how much you like working at the company.

Prepare for rejection: To give you a raise, your boss must ask his or her superior; so the process is probably just as nerve-wracking for your supervisor as it is for you, she said. As a result, your boss' first answer may be, "No." You can help make it easier for your boss to make a pitch for you by giving the person a copy of the list you developed.

Develop the right comeback: When pressed, tell your boss, "I want to stay here forever, and I want to be worth more." And tell your supervisor you would like to meet again in a week or two. Also ask for additional assignments on a higher level. "To get paid more," she said, "you need to grow your job."

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