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I work in IT in Nevada, USA. My wife was hired by my employer's accounting department a few months ago. My employer typically announces next year's raises just before Christmas. Despite record profits we got no Christmas bonus or CoLA (despite record inflation in my area), let alone legitimate raises.

I spoke to my boss about a raise, saying that I at least need CoLA to maintain my quality of life. His response was that because accounting hired my wife, the company has given my "household" a $50K raise. I replied that we're talking about my salary for my work, and my wife's salary for my wife's work is irrelevant. Also, it should be noted that I'm the only one left on my team, everyone else quit and it is taking months to hire. He got angry that I was being "entitled" and ended the call (we're still remote due to COVID).

Who was in the wrong here?

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  • Where in the world are you? Dec 26, 2021 at 18:42
  • I'm located in NV, USA. Dec 26, 2021 at 18:47
  • 12
    I assume you are doing as much as possible to cover the absentees... Perhaps time to polish the CV.
    – Solar Mike
    Dec 26, 2021 at 19:21
  • When you say "we got no Christmas bonus or CoLA," does "we" refer to you and your wife, or to everyone at the company? That is, did no one at your company get a bonus or CoLA, or are you just talking about just you and your wife?
    – shoover
    Dec 30, 2021 at 17:31

5 Answers 5

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Your wife's salary should never be point of discussion in your own salary negotiation. For good or bad. It's about you, your part in the success of the company and your compensation for this.

Bringing up your wife's salary is also fishy since you mentioned your wife is working in a different department. Your boss should not even know what your wife makes or what she made before she started that job.

The rest of your team probably quit for a reason. Perhaps multiple reasons. You seem to have found at least two of those reasons. Your boss and your salary.

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  • 3
    Who do you think all the departments report to? Who do you think is paying all the bills? Seriously, you think it's "fishy" that the boss knows how much he is paying all his employees? I hope you don't operate a business if you think being financially aware of your business is "fishy".
    – Jack
    Dec 26, 2021 at 21:30
  • 37
    @Jack I would assume that having multiple departments and one of them "accounting" that this isn't a 2 person mom&pop shop and their "boss" is the head of their department, not the company CEO. Even the company CEO wouldn't know (or have to know) someone's wife's salary.
    – nvoigt
    Dec 26, 2021 at 21:32
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    I agree with all of this except "shouldn't even know" what she makes; many companies have public salaries, including my own, and so I can know what every person here makes, even before I was in management. It's pretty irrelevant to the company.
    – Joe
    Dec 27, 2021 at 2:55
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    He might not know exactly what she makes, but he can easily estimate what someone in her position would make.
    – Barmar
    Dec 27, 2021 at 15:12
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    Also, I suspect the boss was just tossing out a round number.
    – Barmar
    Dec 27, 2021 at 15:39
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I like nvoigt's answer, and your boss certainly threw the most irrelevant points, but there is an argument that neither of you were quite right.

No raise in relation to the cost of living means that your employer will be at a disadvantage compared to the market rate. Whether it allows you to maintain your quality of life is something you'll want to consider, but not something your employer will care about.

Another important point you made to us (but I'm not sure whether you raised it with your boss) is that you've taken on additional workload and responsibility. This means you'll be looking at market rates for different - and presumably higher-paid - jobs.

It sounds like the conversation went off the rails into emotional factors, which should always be irrelevant. Your boss took it further, but I suspect they might be able to say "you started it" in bringing up your quality of life - suggesting that a second income from your wife could be relevant when it wasn't.

Employment is a financial transaction. The legitimate reason to argue for a raise is market rates (or as nvoigt nicely puts it "you, your part in the success of the company and your compensation"). This also puts you in a stronger negotiating position, since if you're looking at market rates it's implied that you're also looking at other employers.

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  • 1
    Wow. That 2nd para brings it right in. No one is getting raises, then the OP brought in a personal reason why just they need a raise. All the boss did was points out it wasn't even a good argument (which I don't really know -- was this job a big step up for the wife?) The boss didn't even imply that's the reason for no raise. Dec 27, 2021 at 16:12
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    +1 A legitimate answer to "I need (...) to maintain my quality of life" may involve discussing any means available to maintain your quality of life.
    – Pere
    Dec 27, 2021 at 16:51
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    I think this answer is sort of missing the point about cost of living. It isn't that the employer should care about the employee's personal life. Rather, it is that without an increase to match inflation, he has received a pay cut in real terms. It is legitimate to raise as a point that you want your salary to at least stay the same as what it was before. That is the case regardless of what you plan to spend the money on. Using this answer's logic, a legitimate response from the employer would be that market rates have gone down in real terms, not that the wife's salary is a factor. Dec 27, 2021 at 17:45
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    @FilipMilovanović Google "how to ask for a raise". You give business reasons -- been doing good work, learned a bunch of new job skills, doing extra work, it's been 2 years w/o one. You don't say "because I want to remodel my bathroom". Dec 28, 2021 at 5:48
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    @OwenReynolds - Google "how not to focus on a completely irrelevant point". What you're pointing out is irrelevant to this situation. The way the OP asked for a raise is irrelevant. Whether the OP got the raise or not is irrelevant. What's relevant is that the boss blatantly engaged in manipulative tactics, instead of giving their reasons. A good boss does not say "we gave your wife work, so how dare you even ask???". That is not a reason. A good boss does not call their employee "entitled" for pointing this out. Dec 28, 2021 at 10:32
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So many Red Flags - prepare your plan B.

Despite record profits we got no Christmas bonus or CoLA (despite record inflation in my area), let alone legitimate raises.

A huge red flag that your company is greedy beyond any sanity. In my experience this is most likely to happen when a take-over is being sought by management (i.e. someone else take's over the company) or when venture capitalists are planning to bail. They could be planning out-sourcing work. Something like that may be on the cards and if it is it's quite common for redundancies to follow those events.

Something to think about. Look for other signs.

I spoke to my boss about a raise, saying that I at least need CoLA to maintain my quality of life.

Good move.

His response was that because accounting hired my wife, the company has given my "household" a $50K raise.

That's just so far off the deep end we're practically on the sea floor. It's an appalling response.

I replied that we're talking about my salary for my work, and my wife's salary for my wife's work is irrelevant.

You are correct and it should under no circumstances have been mentioned by your boss. Well done on stating that to your boss.

Also, it should be noted that I'm the only one left on my team, everyone else quit and it is taking months to hire.

This is another sign that things are not as they seem. People have left and people are not coming in means that there may actually be a company wide problem.

Note this situation means you would, under normal circumstances, have an extremely strong bargaining position for a raise well above cost of living. Yet they are offering nothing !

It's probably time to get your CV in order and checking out other options.

He got angry that I was being "entitled" and ended the call

Just conformation that he has no options and no plan B. And, for the record, you are, under those conditions, "entitled" to seek more money for your work as they need you.

I really think something may be going on beyond they manager's control and possibly even beyond his knowledge. You (and your wife) need to investigate other options as there are possible signs here that this company may have serious changes coming.

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  • It may not be company wide, if it's only the OP's team which has left...it's possible they just all left because this particular manager is a horrible person. OTOH, the whole team leaving and no one questioning if the manager may be the problem might be a sign that there is a company-wide problem, certainly I don't see much future there for the OP or the OP's wife as long as that manager is there, even in a different department the OP's wife is bound to have trouble if this manager is already able to get away with such nonsense and will have a grudge when the OP leaves as well. Dec 27, 2021 at 17:42
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    I would not characterize this as "greed." That has too much morality attached. I agree with your assessment that the company is being shopped, and the VC's who funded it are wanting to sweeten the books for the sale. Dec 28, 2021 at 2:27
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Your boss's statement seems stupid and irrelevant to me.

Unless he knows what her salary was before she was hired by your company, how can he know what your "household" was making previously?

And if there were such a thing as a company paying "household salary", you would be getting a combined check. I've never heard of such a thing, and each employee should be considered individually. You don't get less consideration just because they also hired your spouse.

However, if no one in the company received CoLA raises, I'm not sure why you think you should be singled out and get it. You should instead find reasons for them to give you a raise based on your merit. For instance, if you're the only one left in your team, and you're achieving the team goals, you probably deserve more than when you were just one of several.

But you should avoid an ultimatum -- don't try "Would you like to have no one left on this team?" Employers know that no one is indispensible.

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    A household salary was sort of a thing. In the 1970's married women were legally paid at a reduced rate since husbands were the breadwinners. The idea was that wives worked for fun and didn't need to make as much. Dec 27, 2021 at 16:15
  • Of course, because back then the woman was the husband's property, so her salary obviously belonged to him.
    – Barmar
    Dec 27, 2021 at 16:17
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    I agree that one shouldn't threaten with the bad outcome, and shouldn't say "would you like to have no one left on this team." But, the best way to say no is "yes, when", and it seems appropriate to me to say "working here has been really rewarding and I've been acquiring great skills and have enjoyed my growth arc, and see all the additional responsibility I've been taking on as a fulfilling practice of mastery. I would like to keep working here and plan to do so as long as the position continues to offer a rewarding value proposition."
    – CodeSeeker
    Dec 27, 2021 at 20:30
  • In my mind, that is how one productively threatens to leave if pay is not raised.
    – CodeSeeker
    Dec 27, 2021 at 20:30
  • @CodeSeeker It can be a tricky balancing act, I think. I've been lucky never to have to have that kind of conversation.
    – Barmar
    Dec 27, 2021 at 20:32
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There are places in the world and businesses based on family ties where this MAY be relevant. These are outside of US for sure.

Not only your boss is fundamentally wrong to mix your and your wife's employment matters, but it can also be understood as a hint that you are more vulnerable because the company may fire BOTH you and your wife at once.

In some places (e.g. EU) your boss may get in trouble for this.


You are in fact more vulnerable even if your boss has pretty much the best intentions. If your common employer bankrupts, you and your wife are in worse position than the case where only one of you is out of job.

Your employer is in trouble, no matter what the accounting numbers look like. Annoying all of the employees at once is not something a healthy employer can afford.


p.s.

I work for a very small company that pretty much needs my wife's skill set. My stance about her joining us is a big fat NO. Guess why.

p.s. 2

On the other hand, your own "I ... need CoLA" or other "need"-based argument is almost equally wrong. You WANT or ASK or maybe even EXPECT more money. Your needs are your own business, unless the employer is your mom.

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