Unequal Pay For Equal Work!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about pay difference:

I have worked for a certain company now for six months on a temporary basis and now on a permanent basis. My question is, when I was interviewed they told me that all the administrative assistants got the same pay which I found out, by accidentally seeing another administrator’s check that she is making substantially more than I am and has been on the job only a couple of months before they made her permanent. She works for one person and I work for five. My question is: how do I get the point across that I know for a fact that other Admin. Assistants get paid more than I do without them finding out how I got this information, or telling me she has more responsibilities (which she doesn’t).

Signed, Desperate

Dear Desperate:

It is very frustrating to think someone who seems to do the same general work is getting more pay than you are. However, what you do about that depends upon several things.

1. Keep in mind that unless you signed a contract specifying that you would receive exactly the same pay as someone else, there was no obligation for them to tell you anything more than they did. It may be that all administrative assistants in your exact situation get the same pay. But some administrative assistants who have slightly different work or a different boss or a different boss three levels up or different skills or different experiences in former jobs or who might sometime in the future have different responsibilities get paid more or less. Which is to say, there are a zillion reasons why pay for the same job title may be different. There may be an Admin. Asst. who is making less than you are and would be upset to know it.

2. I assume there is some prohibition against discussing salaries at your work. You can see why! So, if you are concerned enough that you want to talk to HR about it, consider simply saying that you are enjoying your work very much and think you are doing a good job. If you have received a performance appraisal you can use that to support your feeling. Then, say you want to know if there is a knowledge or skill path that you should try to take to ensure pay raises and bonuses (if there are those.) For example, you may find that having a certain level of education helps, or taking on new projects, or gaining a technical skill or some other thing. They may say there is nothing you can do except do good work where you are. Or, they may indicate what has helped others move into higher paying assignments. Frankly, people are usually hired at the level where they are needed and there is not much upward movement from there within the same company. However, if there are openings in higher positions, it would be good to know that. One question you could ask is if there are regular processes for letting people know when job openings are going to become available or is that all handled internally without interviewing people. The more you know about the organization, the better off you are and the better employee you will be. If they imply or say that everyone makes the same pay, you will likely have to let it go at that if you don’t want to say that you have reason to believe that isn’t the case. And you may find, as is the situation in an office with which I am familiar, there is a very slight nuance to the rating. One woman is an Administrative Assistant III and so are many others. She makes appreciably more than they do, because her job description shows her as the Data Manager as well. I don’t know if she manages much data, but she is very well liked by everyone and needed the extra pay after a sad family situation and got it by developing an additional job description for herself. That’s the absolute truth. Every once in awhile someone will find out about the difference in salary and be very upset; and are told by HR that she is more than an Admin. III, she is also the Data Manager. That is just the reality of workplace life I think.

3. Consider this as well; as frustrating as this is, you evidently felt your salary was good enough when you were hired. If they would have told you then that at least one person with your title would get higher pay than you, would you have turned the job down? If you felt it was a fair wage at the time, your best approach may be to watch and wait and gain the experience that will show you merit a higher pay as well or use the experience to move to another company and a higher paying job—although there may be someone else in the new job who will also make more for essentially the same work. I know it’s frustrating, but it is perfectly legal and likely seems logical to your organization. It is only discrimination if the pay is lower based on your gender, race, ethnicity, older age or some other protected issue under the law. I hope this has given you something to consider as you think about what you want to do. Best wishes with this situation and with your work in general. One day you may be doing the hiring! Think and act with WEGO mindedness.

Tina Lewis Rowe