Reader 1: At my annual review, management told me they were already paying top dollar for my position and that I would have to move to a new position to earn more, so I did. I have since discovered that the person hired to fill my prior position is making a significantly higher salary than I make now. I am currently training her, and I can barely look her in the eye because of my anger and sense of unfairness.
Reader 2: I recently found out that my colleague is making about 25 percent more than I am. We have the same title, but she has a professional certificate; I have more experience and deliver better results. I'd like to negotiate for more money when our contracts come up for renewal. How can I get what I deserve?
A: First, take a hard look at what you and your co-worker bring to the table: education, experience, results. Is it possible your co-worker offers more value to the company? Or did he or she simply ask for more up front or do a better job of calling raise-worthy accomplishments to management's attention? Try to see things from management's perspective, so you're not blindsided.
Then forget about your co-worker. Build a case for a raise for yourself based on quantifiables: additional responsibilities, training that has boosted your performance or contributions you've made to the bottom line. Spelling out your value to the company is more likely to generate positive results than displaying grape envy.
If the boss insists the money isn't there, consider asking for nonmonetary compensation, such as permission to telecommute, flexible hours or additional leave. These benefits can be more satisfying than a few extra bucks a month.
Some workers successfully use competing offers from other employers as leverage. But be willing to follow through on that other offer. If you're bluffing, you'll in a pickle.
Give employer a chance to do right
Q: My company has a policy that, after so many years, your salary should be at mid-level on its salary charts. I'm now past that point. I've earned excellent reviews, have strong knowledge in my field and am continuing my education. I have brought this policy up during my appraisal, only to be told I am not eligible for a raise beyond that allotted, with no explanations.
Recently it came to light that out of all of us who do this job, only the male worker in the group (with the same amount of time in the company as I have but less education) makes the mid-level salary rate. Appraisals are coming around again. Do I ask for another increase to bring my salary in line with the company policy? Or is it time to pursue another course of action?
A: Your situation as described has a whiff of gender bias about it. Some dragging may be in order. But before you cry "Title VII!" and let slip the dogs of law, employment attorney Sharon Snyder of the Washington law firm Ober Kaler recommends giving your employer a chance to "do the right thing, for the right reason."
Snyder notes that your company's policy of tying salary to time served probably lacks the force of law. But it's a good place to start. If you're told again that you're "not eligible," press for explicit reasons why the policy doesn't apply to you.
If that tack gets you nowhere, start plugging your stellar record and value to the company, including your additional education and training.
No soap? Time to reveal what you know about your male co-worker's pay. Spell out how the disparity in your salaries inaccurately reflects your respective qualifications and contributions, and that you should be making at least as much as your co-worker, given your equal time served.
But, Snyder warns, don't mention discrimination yet. Just see what the boss says. If you get the raise, well done. If you're told there isn't enough money, ask for a timeline of when you can expect more. If you're told your performance falls short, discuss ways to improve it.
If none of the answers passes a sniff test, or if you find yourself targeted in some way afterward, it may indeed be time to "pursue another course of action," such as talking to your human resources department and getting your lawyer on. You'd be wise to update your resume, too. Dropping the d-bomb is a game-changer.
Fighting discrimination can take a toll on your finances, sanity and reputation. But the cause can be worth the cost.
Karla L. Miller writes an advice column on navigating the modern workplace.