What to do if I'm being paid less than agreed upon in an interview?
October 1, 2014 11:28 PM   Subscribe

I recently took a part-time job tutoring at a nonprofit, and was told that I'd get paid $X/hr. Today, I was pulled aside and told by my supervisor/interviewer that I would instead get paid $Y/hr. I should have confronted her about it at the time, but I wasn't confident that I could think clearly in the moment so I asked for some time to think things over. What should I do so that I can get at least some of this back?

$Y=83% of $X, with $Y/hr-$X/hr being the given range in the job listing. She had given me the wrong number post-interview with $X being for BAs and $Y for people in undergrad.

What I'd like, obviously, is to get $X/hr. I feel that I've been treated unfairly in that when I accepted the job I expected $X/hr. Though I probably would've taken the job anyway, the difference between X and Y is pretty significant. I also feel like she hasn't tried at all to make this (her) mistake good, perhaps by trying to get me some number in between X and Y. While she asserts that it's organizational policy that undergrads get $X/hr in this position, I feel like there's probably a lot more leeway in the policy than she's letting on. I also anticipate that I would start to resent being paid less than my colleagues for doing the exact same job only because I didn't have a degree.

On the other hand, $Y/hr is already more than I hoped to get while I was job-hunting. I also never got $X/hr in writing, in my haste; it was all verbal. I'm not eager to go looking for another job as an undergrad in a large city in this job market, so I don't think that leaving my job is an effective threat/lever. I'm also rather short on professional references, and I would like to preserve a positive relationship with my supervisor so that I can count on having another one in the future. Lastly, I'm by nature a non-confrontational person so I'm already inclined to just accept that I'm going to be paid $Y/hr. I'm deciding to take a stand only because I feel like if I don't get some practice self-advocating I'll never do it when the stakes get even higher.

When I do speak to my supervisor, what should I focus on to try to get a higher wage? I'm planning on emphasizing that this was her mistake, that I would have not been so eager to take the job offer at the lower wage, and that I feel that the job I'm doing has been very satisfactory already so that paying me less than other tutors wouldn't make a lot of sense. What else am I missing? What kinds of responses should I anticipate?
posted by coolname to Work & Money (23 answers total)
I don't think there's much you can do. She acknowledged the mistake herself already.
Your options, IMHO:
1. Insist on the agreed upon salary and if they refuse to pay and:
a. Resign immediately and graciously, hoping they can help refer you to other opportunities.
b. Resign immediately, and demand to be paid in full what you were told you were going to be paid up until the point their mistake was noted.
2. Explain your disappointment to your superior, but graciously and earnestly keep working. Hopefully an opportunity will come up for her to make it up.
posted by Unsomnambulist at 11:43 PM on October 1, 2014

Best answer: I'm gong to suggest an entirely different solution that I don't think that you have considered, and I think that it would be better BEFORE creating animosity with you and your employer or your employer with you, blah blah blah.

Why not see what someone like you can get on the free market with your exact background?

I am speaking from experience (as a gap between employment, I answered ads from in CL from one person seeking a tutor for a child (vs an agency) or placed my own.The difference is that you can state up front "I am paid XX/hour" X= whatever you think that you are worth, and that you can justify it to whomever is hiring you. The rate that I received was much higher vs. working for any agency, IME. Also, as a person who also hates confrontation, to ask for a certain amt of $, even in email/on the phone/or in person, was powerful.

So if it works, you might need to work far fewer hours than you do now, or get more $ vs what you do now. If it does not, well, then I would accept the current rate as what you can get (and that you might be able to get more in the future with more experience, marketing yourself, etc.).
posted by Wolfster at 11:53 PM on October 1, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Man, I was all set to go off on the slave wages non-profits pay in general, and what a shitty bait-n-switch move this was in particular...

But Wolfster has it!!

I don't know where you are, but babysitters and nannies make BANK where I live for private clients. I know they are paid far far less through organizations that supply the same services.

For example....

Out highly revered preschool is expensive and is technically non-profit because the school is associated with a religious institution, although the school non-denominational.

I also know that the teachers, include lead teachers, are paid $15 an hour. Nannies in my neighborhood make $20 to $30 an hour. Babysitters make $15 to $20, minimum, and caregivers through non-profit agencies make minimum wage-ish ($12) to $15 per hour.

I imagine a specialized tutor can make quite a lot per hour on the open market.


My advice is to do this job for a month or two, get it on your resume, and jump to higher paying private gigs.


Oops! Here's where I soapbox....

Likely tons of folks take this non-profit gig and do exactly this - move on to greener pastures quickly.

Your new boss and employer is saving money. They probably don't care about turnover, just saving money.


Script for tomorrow: "I agreed to X when I accepted this position. While I understand the mistake, I believe the equitable solution is to meet me in the middle at "Z" compensation."

If they say "Sorry, we can't," at least you stood up for yourself in an appropriate way. You can still happily take the job! You took care of your side of things and did right!!

Then, you cultivate better opportunities while collecting a paycheck.

Best of luck!
posted by jbenben at 12:38 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You tell them you are confused about the conversation you had the other day, and that you agreed on a wage of Z dollars an hour in the interview. Then do not say anything else, let them speak.
posted by devnull at 1:37 AM on October 2, 2014 [12 favorites]

Best answer: If you really need the job, you might just have to suck it up, or else move on. You don't really have a lot of leverage here. Is $Y/hr a fair market rate for the position you're filling?

If it were me, I wouldn't be happy with the unexpected wage drop, even if I could see that it was clearly offered by mistake. I might take it personally and tell them that I didn't want the job under those circumstances. But if I decided to take the job anyway, I might try something like this:
Hi [Boss], I've been thinking about the salary mix-up and I understand that there was some miscommunication. Unfortunately I relied on the number that was originally quoted when making my decision and the lower wage that's being offered now will create some hardship for me.

I know you've said that you can't do anything about it right now, but I believe I'm worth $X per hour and think I can demonstrate that to you. Can you and I agree on some performance goals for what it would take for me to be worth $X to the organization and then agree to review my performance in 6 months? I think you'll agree then that I'm worth the number that was originally offered.
It's possible that that could set you up for a ~20% raise in six months, which is a lot better than nothing. And it would give your employer a completely reasonable way to demonstrate good faith. And besides, if you're doing the work to the standard expected at the higher pay grade they should have no problem paying you that.
posted by Nerd of the North at 1:37 AM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm deciding to take a stand only because I feel like if I don't get some practice self-advocating I'll never do it when the stakes get even higher.

Choose your battles. What's at stake? Is this one winnable? If you fought and lost, what would be the cost? If you won, what would be the cost?

The best advice I can give you (and the hardest to implement) is to let go of the 'they're paid more than me' issue because it will suck the good stuff out of your work. Take $Y. Keep a work success diary and record in it every day. Ask for $X at the next opportunity (colleague leaving, review etc). And keep looking upwards for better paid work.
posted by salad at 3:34 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

If it were me - given all you've said about lacking references, etc - I'd maybe bring it up one more time (ala devnull's advice above). My guess is that it won't help - many of these places have so much bureaucracy and red tape in place that making exceptions is effectively impossible - but at least you tried.

Optional: is your gut feeling that you were intentionally deceived? Or do you think it was an honest mistake? Even if there was deception, it sounds like it would be worthwhile to stay. Just watch your back. My guess, based on your letter, is that it was simply a mistake.

That said: this one isn't worth a fight to the death.
posted by doctor tough love at 4:13 AM on October 2, 2014

No company is going to pay you thousands of additional dollars over potentially years of employment because someone uttered one wrong sentence in a job interview. You can fight this, but you won't win it, and you've already said that although it isn't X, it's better than you were expecting to get. Don't assert your way out of the job.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:29 AM on October 2, 2014 [11 favorites]

Best answer: I feel like there's probably a lot more leeway in the policy than she's letting on.

That organization may well have that flexibility -- you will find out when you ask, I guess. But it's common to have defined brackets based on education and/or experience, and for those to be fairly inflexible. I can move a new employee up or down within a narrow range, but I can't bump them up to a higher range if they don't meet the criteria that have been defined for that range (mostly years of experience and relevant degrees). If someone doesn't have a degree, there is absolutely a cap on what job title I can give them and how much they can get paid no matter how good they are.

Many places do have more flexible systems and if so your negotiation should help. But if there are defined categories by education, they may simply not have the ability to recategorize you. (And if they are grant funded, then there may be restrictions both from the organization itself and from the grant that is funding the project, which can add layers of inflexibility.)
posted by Dip Flash at 5:19 AM on October 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

"While she asserts that it's organizational policy that undergrads get $X/hr in this position, I feel like there's probably a lot more leeway in the policy than she's letting on."

Based on my experience working in an academic environment, no. I doubt she has any leeway at all. Universities and associated institutions can be super super rigid about pay scales and degree requirements.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:59 AM on October 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

I had the 'one wrong sentence' thing happen to me -- for a one-year contract, I was sent the wrong letter of acceptance, which led to me incurring extra moving expenses because I thought they'd be reimbursed (which they would have, for a multi-year contract). I should have checked the letter -- in hindsight, it was too good to be true, but in my own defense I was an idiot in those days. I was able to negotiate a partial repayment by pleading my poverty, but that probably wouldn't work with a lot of employers.
posted by Mogur at 6:36 AM on October 2, 2014

What was the official offer? Was it in writing? If the answer is X and No, then you have learned a valuable lesson. You could make a stand for I was told X and want X, but you also need to make that stand and hold your ground. No X and you have to leave or you will be abused as long as you are there. So if you are willing to leave, make a stand otherwise you take the lesson learned: get it in writing.
posted by Gungho at 6:42 AM on October 2, 2014

I feel like there's probably a lot more leeway in the policy than she's letting on.

If it were a salaried position, maybe, but I wouldn't count on it with an hourly position. If there are other staffers doing the job for $Y the supervisor / HR would also likely be very worried that if word got out that OP was making $X the organization would have mass disgruntlement / grievances on their hands.

Nthing with those who say if the $X offer wasn't in writing you're likely out of luck, which sucks.
posted by aught at 6:58 AM on October 2, 2014

Get over it. You'll be making more than you expected when you started job-hunting. Credentialism is a reality of the job market; it sucks, but you'd best get used to it.
posted by metasarah at 7:20 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For an hourly position like this, I doubt your superviser has much flexibility in giving you more than your credentials and experience allow for. You say: " I also anticipate that I would start to resent being paid less than my colleagues for doing the exact same job only because I didn't have a degree." But...you don't have a degree. Surely you can see how the tutoring organization can get more value out of someone with a degree (perhaps charging more for tutoring from someone with a BA or BS, advertising that "75% of our tutors have a college degree," some parents may specifically request someone with a degree but no one is going out of their way to get a tutor without a degree, etc.) And while you think you might feel resentful about the pay difference, your supervisor has to consider that by giving you this bump, she risks making EVERY OTHER TUTOR with and without a degree resentful that you are getting this undeserved pay bump due to a simple error. Which do you think she's more worried about?

I think one thing it would be fair to ask for is compensation for however many hours you worked before getting the news about the pay difference. But, that may be such a small amount of money that it is not worth making a fuss about.

Going forward, I would decide whether you still want the job at $Y. If yes, then great, go for it! If no, then inform the supervisor that you won't be able to continue. Let go of the resentment...sounds like even the lower amount is more than you were hoping for, so that's a good thing!
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:34 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Assume it was a mistake. Get the correction to that mistake in writing. Otherwise, you're not going to see that money.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:58 AM on October 2, 2014

Swapping contracts on you post-accept doesn't seem very ethical. You could have had the option of choosing a different company to work for, and you chose the current one because of what you agreed upon in your contract. A contract is a contract. Consider talking to a lawyer about your rights and obligations.

Also, consider the fact that this company doesn't seem to have their shit together. I might expect worse things to come in the future from this organization.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:04 AM on October 2, 2014

Since X was not in writing, I think devnull's idea of simply doing a direct ask is your only recourse. The takeaway here is - always get a job offer in writing. If you can live with Y I would simply keep working at that job while I kept looking for another one. I wouldn't do a mike drop if the answer is no, which it probably will be.
posted by randomkeystrike at 9:29 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Something sort of similar happened to me once, where the number was even in writing, but the HR person made a mistake and the company was never intending to pay me the incorrect amount. It seemed my options were to refuse the job or accept it. I chose to accept it. I suppose I could've fought back, but I didn't feel like starting off my new employment with tension or set myself up for expectations to "earn" that extra amount I fought for.

At best, I think you could try to get a month of the other rate or something by saying you were planning on it and budgeted for it, but really, I would just let it go and focus on getting the experience and references you need to move up to higher pay.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:02 AM on October 2, 2014

I worked at a school and we had rigid guidelines about what qualified teacher aides (my position) for the degree rate. You absolutely needed at least an associate degree. It didn't matter if you were 3 years into a bachelor's degree, you'd get the non-degree rate.

At most places, even retail, there's some degree of flexibility but educational environmentss work by different rules.
posted by Aranquis at 12:46 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are there 'soft' benefits that you might be interested in to make up the difference? Could you instead ask for another week of vacation, an arrangement to work from home or a green light to attend a great conference?
posted by Nickel Pickle at 2:23 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I suspect that if it happened to me, I'd keep the job, but let you supervisor know, politely, that it takes all the fun out of a new job to get kicked in the teeth at the outset.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:52 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers, everyone! What I ended up doing was very similar to devnull's and Nerd of the North's answers.

I asked for a clarification of how it came to be that I got paid $Y instead of the $X agreed. She said that in the first week she was swamped with starting up the program for the year, so that when she belatedly got around to processing my paperwork for employment she found that with my education level the appropriate pay would instead be $Y. She says she then immediately let me know about this, and offered an apology.

(So, at this point she wasn't really jumping to try to do anything substantive about this, and waited for my response. Though I thought the apology was fairly sincere, I still really wanted something done)

I thanked her for letting me know, and then I asked about possibly setting up some performance goals to achieve with a performance review in three months (went with 3 instead of 6 because the program is 9 months out of the year) for a possible pay raise. She agreed to bring it up with her supervisor and if her supervisor didn't have a clear answer then to keep trying to go up the hierarchy with the request. She also, however, emphasized that the pay rate is usually pretty rigid because of the nature of program budgeting. She also (I think?) implicitly dinged me on the fact that I am working slightly fewer hours than standard because of my class schedule.

So, it seems I came away with not very much at all materially, but a good amount of experience about what to do in this type of situation in the future. Principally, making sure to get everything in writing, and what to consider when I'm deciding whether to, what to, and how to negotiate with my supervisor. This whole thing has kind of rubbed away the new-job-shine rather fast, and I think that with this glimpse into the organization's workings my priority's now really shifted into building up experience and skills so that I can find a better position later on.
posted by coolname at 12:09 AM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

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