Does a promotion negate a merit raise?
February 19, 2008 4:14 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend's been offered a promotion at her job. However, her manager's informed her that because she's getting a raise due to the promotion, she won't be getting her merit increase this year. Is this kosher? Usual?

She normally gets the merit increase at her performance review in April. Her manager says that because the promotion is happening before then, she's "ineligible" for the merit increase. He went on to say that if she'd gotten the promotion after her merit increase took effect in April, she would've gotten both raises.

Is this normal? Does she have any recourse(s)? I've already advised her to ask if she could see this policy in writing, but beyond that or a chat with corporate HQ HR or her district manager, she's not sure what she could do.

(oh, and when she questioned her manager about being ineligible for the merit raise, he told her that it wasn't that much money (she works in retail -- she gets consistently positive performance reviews, but the dollar amounts are small), and he wondered why she was making a fuss about it.)
posted by Vidiot to Work & Money (31 answers total)
I'm with the manager. I suspect that there is little "recourse" with which she can force both - she's being offered a promotion but no April bonus, or the April bonus but no promotion. There's no law that says that a company has to do either, so she should evaluate the two and take the one that is more rational.

From a business ethics standpoint, accelerating her career and increasing her salary should compensate for the minor bonus not paid out to people in her former role, so while subjective, I'd call it kosher.
posted by ellF at 4:20 PM on February 19, 2008

You might want to specify if you're asking this as an academic "what if" type question or as something she'll actually do, otherwise people will, quite rightly, give you various answers along the line of "perhaps she shouldn't rock the boat." There is, naturally, a legal answer to this, but the pragmatic answer is likely to revolve around whether it really is a small amount and whether the overall job and promotion are worth more than the possible fallout from higher-ups if the issue is forced.
posted by wackybrit at 4:21 PM on February 19, 2008

FWIW, I got promoted, with a raise, and then I got my annual merit raise three months later.
I work in a fortune-100 IT company.
Not sure if they are typical, though.
posted by Kellydamnit at 4:25 PM on February 19, 2008

Response by poster: wackybrit, it'd be the latter. Not an academic question; she's wondering what to do (if anything) and if this is a normal practice.
posted by Vidiot at 4:27 PM on February 19, 2008

It's not completely abnormal. Whether it's bog standard, I'm not sure, but I know it was often the case at my last job.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:34 PM on February 19, 2008

It was normal and unpopular at my former employer (a very, very large company).
posted by dilettante at 4:37 PM on February 19, 2008

Best answer: This is a very normal practice in my experience. If you got a promotion within 6 months prior to the normal merit raise date, you don't get a merit raise that year. This is likely in the employee handbook or the formal policy; if I were her, I wouldn't press the issue as it won't get results and will probably lower her standing in the eyes of HR or management.

Yes, they're screwing her over, in a completely legal and customary way.
posted by ulotrichous at 4:45 PM on February 19, 2008

Data point - at my workplace, you would get both.
posted by ersatzkat at 4:46 PM on February 19, 2008

I've seen it.
posted by Jahaza at 4:47 PM on February 19, 2008

Are merit raises generally tied to one's performance given a specific job description? I would imagine a promotion would mean the basis for evaluating the job you're doing would change, meaning the next merit evaluation would be a year from then. Or are they always tied to your start date at the company?
posted by pzarquon at 4:48 PM on February 19, 2008

Where I work, it wouldn't matter: I'd get both. And I have on two occasions. However I worked in retail long ago too, and if one thing is certain is that they're consistently grubby when it comes to adding to your paycheck. So I'd say, for retail, it's par for the course.
posted by brain cloud at 4:51 PM on February 19, 2008

They used to pull this shit at McDonald's when I worked there in high school. If I recall correctly the minimum wage jumped from $6.20 to $7.00 when you turned 18. So you start at minimum wage at age 16 and after two years of 10c increases every 6 months, poof, you're at minimum wage again. Of course your new wage is higher than it used to be -- but the 18-year old rookies they hire that you have to train make the same that you do, which is kind of a kick in the teeth. Fortunately management was good about listening to employees and instituted an additional 'turning 18' raise for those already above minimum.

I don't remember the details but I believe it was focusing on the big-picture angle that persuaded them. Not whining about the extra 30 cents an hour, but pointing out that the incentive structure is skewed, not just for you but for everyone, and is thus harmful to morale. In effect your girlfriend will make the same amount of money as others in her new position that *didn't* earn a merit raise, which means her merit is not being recognized. And if they're not willing to recognize her merit, why bother with merit raises in the first place? What kind of message does that send to the employees?
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:52 PM on February 19, 2008

In effect your girlfriend will make the same amount of money as others in her new position that *didn't* earn a merit raise, which means her merit is not being recognized. And if they're not willing to recognize her merit, why bother with merit raises in the first place? What kind of message does that send to the employees?

This merit has been recognized by a promotion. She hasn't gained any merit in the new position yet, one assumes, so, in a dry, financial sense, deserves no bonus beyond what any other newcomer to that job would receive. Her hard work has been rewarded by promotion to a role that, perhaps, she was not qualified for when she took on the lower position.

If she were to maintain an extra bonus and get a promotion, that would then seem unfair to newcomers who built up similar merit at other companies, only to not have it recognized at the new one. I personally don't think merit should be transferrable in this way, so it'd apply internally as well as externally, but this is, of course, only an opinion!
posted by wackybrit at 5:01 PM on February 19, 2008

The promotion is the merit increase.
posted by Class Goat at 5:05 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

my bosses actually gave me a promotion because i would have been ineligible for merit increase (i had been working there as a temp for two years, but hadn't been hired as a 'real' employee until less than a year before the annual reviews.) it pretty much evened out. it's not unheard of.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 5:07 PM on February 19, 2008

It's bullshit, but I've seen this excuse given many times. The company is trying to save money.

She can let the manager and HR know that she's unhappy with it, but they're unlikely to do anything.

Generally, in salary disputes, your only real recourse is to get another job with the salary you want (if you can), and then if you still care about your current job, use that to bargain.
posted by ignignokt at 5:11 PM on February 19, 2008

This sounds normal. Be glad that the manager actually let you know about this before. My husband had a raise given and then rescinded because he "wasn't really supposed to get one." That sucks.
posted by aetg at 5:16 PM on February 19, 2008

This happened when I was in high school working at a grocery store. Coworker started working in December 1998, and I started working in February 1999. She got promoted with a pay raise in May 1999, only 5 months after she started, so she missed the 6 month pay raise. I got my 6 month pay raise in August 1999, then got promoted to the same position as Coworker the following month so I got the promotion raise as well. I noticed the illogical disparity in our hourly wages when I was handing her her pay stub, and we brought it to the store manager's attention. We pointed out that it was utterly unfair for her to have worked there longer than me yet make less when we have the exact same position. They immediately rectified the situation (although she did not get any back pay... she just got a "raise" to my wage). At the time it was the difference between $6.10 an hour and $5.95, but it was obviously a ludicrous situation. Perhaps your girlfriend can also find someone with her new position that has worked a shorter time than her who makes more, and make a similar argument? There is no way that the company would have given Coworker the bump had she simply complained about missing out on the 6-month raise.
posted by gatorae at 5:31 PM on February 19, 2008

Is it possible that they're (officially or unofficially) factoring the merit increase into the promotion raise?
posted by sarahsynonymous at 5:34 PM on February 19, 2008

At my company, someone in that position would get both raises.
posted by Prospero at 5:37 PM on February 19, 2008

Many larger companies (and probably some small) will alot an amount to each manager that they then spread across their employees. So assume you have 5% of total salary to give raises across your employees. Let's say 10 employees each making $50,000. You'd get a total "raise" bucket of $25,000. HR will usually give guidance like give each employee between x and y (say, 4% and 6%) depending on performance. In some companies this bucket is given for all headcount reporting and not just those who are in their job for greater than a specific time. One way to increase raises for other people is to pull this card and not give merit to new hires thus alloting a higher percentage you can give to other employees.
posted by Octoparrot at 5:46 PM on February 19, 2008

At my company, you would get both. I just went through it and received an X% raise which was "standard" for the promotion, and Y% raise for the performance review
posted by WetherMan at 5:48 PM on February 19, 2008

Best answer: If it's "not that much money," then why is her manager making such a fuss about it?
posted by atomly at 6:08 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

It was normal at the large non-profit that I worked for, and it happened to me.
posted by kimdog at 6:22 PM on February 19, 2008

Best answer: Where's it say she should have gotten a merit raise in the first place? Is that written down somewhere? That same reference should say who is ineligibile.

In my opinion, it doesn't matter what the rule is. It only matters if she gets the same deal as everyone else. Have promotees in the past been ineligible for the next merit raise, or did they make this up just now (which would be suspicious). Even if they made it up just now, she still may not have a reason to argue if they a) have that policy written down somewhere and b) stick to it next time they promote someone.

Not knowing the details of the workplace, I'd be inclined to think longer term and just be happy with a one-step-back/two-steps-forward situation.
posted by ctmf at 6:24 PM on February 19, 2008

I used to work for the company vidiot's gf works for (I know both of them IRL). They're devious but really careful about legalities due to labor problems, so it's probably legally kosher, but I'd talk to a lawyer to be sure.
posted by jonmc at 6:37 PM on February 19, 2008

Consult with HR on what the policy is. Be aware that if this gets back to the manager it probably will cause friction.

If the manager is following policy then her recourse is to look for a better company to work for. (I understand this is not always practical advice, but she's got to seize the day, no one's going to do it for her.)

If the manager is not following policy then she has to think hard about whether she wants to fight this or not. If it's not a union shop then she will likely have an uphill battle that may be impossible to win, and even if she does, she will probably cause severe damage to her professional relationship with her manager and anyone that sides with the manager.

Also important to note that not all unions are created equal, even if it is a union shop the union may be spineless, same as having no union.

Just speaking from personal experience in retail with "ethically challenged" managers.
posted by Stilus at 7:25 PM on February 19, 2008

At my job, this is policy. No merit raise unless you've been in your position for at least 6 months, and a promotion counts as new position. However, you'd be eligible for a mid-year merit raise, 6 months after the normal merit time.
posted by donajo at 7:30 PM on February 19, 2008

This isn't abnormal. You could argue whether it's "wrong." One take is, she's basically getting a new job, her boss has decided what the starting salary for this position is, if she'd just started this job at that level, she wouldn't expect a raise in a couple months even if it was the "normal" time for getting a raise.

Or it's just another shitty middle management trick for shaving several hundred off the payroll. Kosher? It's almost certainly legal. If she is satisfied with the wage for the position and not willing to quit over fighting it she should drop it and save herself further pointless frustration. It is very seldom worth pursuing this variety of "matter of principle" issue at a job. They are offering her this amount to do this job for the next year and couple months. Is the wage acceptable? That's all.
posted by nanojath at 7:36 PM on February 19, 2008

Best answer: Her hard work has been rewarded by promotion to a role that, perhaps, she was not qualified for when she took on the lower position.

This is some bullshit (not personally, just in the general sense).

Besides the additional responsibility of a new role, and perhaps the joy that comes about when you have additional control over the lives of other people, what practical increase is there? You're still putting in time for pay, right? The new responsibilities aren't a reward. That's merely the company's own internal measurement tool: this person has learned X of our business and has worked here for Y years without fucking up, so we deem them able to handle Z responsibilities, which are encompassed in this [TITLE]. But responsibility for responsibility's sake? That just means the work you do has a greater affect to the company's bottom line. If this isn't reflected in some financial renumeration, it means nothing.

A bit besides the point, since the OP mentions that the promotion does incur a raise.

To Vidiot: Your girlfriend is getting a raise. The raise is a direct consequence of the promotion. She's getting additional responsibilities and an increase in pay to reflect said responsibilities. Would she be happier with the old position but with the raise? Or would she rather have the new position and the new salary?

I know, it's a reach. I'm just trying to help make lemonade here. She's getting fucked and we can all see that, but at least she's getting something.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:40 PM on February 19, 2008

In my company, if you're promoted 6 months prior to the merit, then the merit should be factored into the promotion.
posted by arcticseal at 12:42 AM on February 20, 2008

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