Q and A / HELP WANTED

Q and A

June 29, 2005

Why colleagues are paid more

Q: Ten years ago, I began working with a local security company as an unarmed part-time officer. I then pursued a program to become a certified special security officer and I have renewed my license every year. I am requested by customers for my professionalism. I work in Washington and Virginia. When the regular guards work in Virginia, they earn $2 more an hour. When I work, the company said I am not entitled to that rate because of my certification. The other officers started out making $10-$13 an hour - between $3 and $6 more than I do. When I asked for a raise, the manager said it would cause the company to lose profit. Do I have any recourse?

R.T., Baltimore

A: There is nothing in the law that requires your employer to pay you more because of your certification. Look at your contract - there may be a stipulation that requires that guards for Virginia clients be paid more per hour. Other than that, the problem appears to be rooted in a misunderstanding between you and your employer. Clearly, you believe you have a conflict, and you should put your efforts into resolving it without alienating the company to which you've devoted 10 years of your life. The best way to do this is through negotiation. You should ask for a clear explanation as to why you are making less money than others. You should politely but persistently ask for an explanation until you understand what the company sees as any barriers to increasing your pay. At the same time, you should do what all good negotiators do - analyze and improve your alternatives. With both experience and certification, why not apply for some other positions? Consider what would happen if you had an offer that would pay you $13 an hour. With this alternative, you could return to the negotiation in a much stronger position. Finally, your company may have a two-tier hiring system in which the most recently hired workers are brought in at a higher level. Many companies do this out of necessity but it does create morale problems when salaries are not kept secret.

ELLEN KABCENELL WAYNE, assistant professor of negotiations and conflict management,

MICHAEL HAYES associate professor of law

and THOMAS MITCHELL director of graduate programs in applied psychology

Q: I witnessed a colleague who changed time on a job to get paid more. I reported it to my bosses. That worker then said I made threats against other colleagues, but I did not. I have since lost my job and the other employee is still there.

M.M., Baltimore

A: Unfortunately for you, your termination case is somewhat similar to a 2002 case, in which Maryland's highest court ruled against the terminated employee. It involved a Sears, Roebuck and Co. security officer who claimed he was fired after reporting suspected thefts by a co-worker to management. The Maryland Court of Appeals said that an employee could be protected from being fired when reporting crimes to law enforcement. But the court said this protection did not extend to reports made within a company or to anyone other than law enforcement. Therefore, the court applied the usual rule of "employment at will," where a worker can be fired for no reason. The law might be more helpful in dealing with the co-worker's accusations. A false statement that you threatened to harm others is harmful to your reputation, so your former colleague could be guilty of defamation. Under the law, you can demand that your accuser admit the statements were false and you can seek compensation for any monetary losses caused by the false accusations.

MICHAEL HAYES

University of Baltimore professors answer questions from readers about workplace issues. To submit a question, send it to working@baltsun.com or Working, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md., 21278-0001, or fax it to 410-783-2517

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