I work in the United States in the medical laboratory field and staff is paid hourly, while supervisors are paid salary. However, the salary difference is minimal, and supervisors routinely work more than 40 hours a week, so they earn less than their hourly staff on an hourly basis.

Is this a usual occurrence in the US labor market? Does management often get paid less on a per-hour basis relative to staff? Or is this an anomaly of the US medical laboratory field?

  • 4
    I know of people who refused promotion to keep the higher pay and avoid the responsibility. Their choice.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented May 31, 2020 at 21:42
  • 2
    There may be other benefits for salaried supervisors such as more vacation time, better health insurance, 401k plans etc that hourly workers do not receive. Commented May 31, 2020 at 22:06
  • This is common at the supervisor and lower management levels. A core reason people take on this extra responsibility for lower pay ends up being the advancement opportunity into middle and upper management where salaries are generally significantly higher. Commented Jun 2, 2020 at 14:28
  • Supervisors are staff. They tend to forget, mind you. Commented Jun 2, 2020 at 22:04

3 Answers 3


There are quite a few fields where this happens, for a variety of reasons.

  • Fields where non-management employees are hourly/nonexempt, and supervisors are exempt, very often see the supervisors taking less per hour than the non-management employees - and sometimes less, period, if overtime is common for non-exempt employees. Retail and fast food see this all the time; some unionized jobs where the hourly/nonexempt staff have regular overtime will also see this. Why do people become supervisors in these fields? Of course, it's the hope to become higher level supervisors or managers for some; for others it's the stable hours and wages where nonexempt staff might see part-time status; for others it's the kind of work - a preference for supervisory tasks to manual labor, for example.

  • Fields where the non-leadership staff are highly skilled and hard to find, and supervisors do not need the equivalent level of skill. I'd even say this translates some to developers, where a highly skilled developer almost always makes more than the project managers theoretically managing their day to day work (but not necessarily the actual "direct report", depending on the structure).

There are probably others; it really boils down to supply and demand, and how much responsibility the supervisor has. If the supervisor is just a line worker with a key, they probably make a bit more; they wouldn't ordinarily qualify for unpaid overtime in the US (I didn't, in retail, for example), and so they're compensated for that responsibility. But if the supervisor really has less useful skills than the line worker, or if they can be defined as exempt, it's just a matter of whether they can convince enough people to take the job at less effective pay, either with the carrot of more actual pay, of later gaining additional earnign potential, or the stick of less consistent earning potential.


Is this a usual occurrence in the US labor market?

Depends on your definition of "usual". It's not particularly common but it's not that particularity rare either. It's certainly less than 50% but probably more than 5%.

Does management often get paid less on a per-hour basis relative to staff?

That's hard to define since exempt employees don't track hours. For an exempt employee you often don't really know how many hours they worked or what activities exactly qualify as "work" time. Compensation is also different depending on what (and how often) you do certain things. One of the techs I worked with loved going to China: he was non-exempt and got paid time-and-a-half for the 16 hour flight from the east coast to Hong Kong, while the exempt person sitting next to him got paid diddly squat. It's a different compensation system and sometimes it swings one way and sometimes it swings the other.

Or is this an anomaly of the US medical laboratory field?



My experience in the Medical laboratory in the US is from observing two family members. What is saw is different from what you describe. The supervisor was salaried, but they were also the only ones that had enough hours to qualify for most benefits.

The hourly employees did get 401(k) with matching, but they didn't get vacation, and their hours were kept low enough that they didn't qualify for medical insurance. They were kept to less than 29 hours per week. It was a cost savings move to hire many part-timers instead of only full timers.

Since the supervisor might have to work more than 40 hours a week, their hourly rate might be lower than they want, but the addition of the benefits is part of the reason why the supervisor accepts the position.

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