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The Salary Dilemma

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A recent Career Builder survey suggested that 49% of workers don’t negotiate their first job offers. For the other 51% who do negotiate, this can sometimes create salary disparities amongst colleagues in identical positions.

Take a look at the ethical dilemma that arises for the hiring manager below. After reading, share your thoughts on how you would address the situation.

“A hiring manager has to fill two identical staff accountant positions, each within a $55-70K salary range. His search led to two well-qualified men and women, who had equal experience and credentials.

He decided to offer a $60K salary to both candidates. He made the first offer to the woman, and she accepted. Then, he offered $60K to the man, who rejected the offer and countered with $65K, which the hiring manager accepted.

After initially being excited that he struck deals with his top two candidates, the hiring manager began to feel uncomfortable with the compensation difference between the two employees. The man received more money because he negotiated harder for a higher salary. But if the discrepancy was discovered, it could appear as if the woman was discriminated against, and paid less money because she was a woman.

He is thinking about increasing the woman’s salary, so it will be equal to the man’s salary, but isn’t sure if it is ethical or legal to do so. He wants to do the right thing, but isn’t sure what that is.”

Can you help the hiring manager resolve this ethical dilemma? As you consider your response, I have included a few ethical considerations below:

  • To what extent does the gender of the hiring manager factor into your perception of whether or not it is ethical to pay the male accountant a higher salary?
  • If the roles were reversed and the woman negotiated a higher salary than the man, would it be ethical to adjust his salary? Why or why not?
  • What (if any) actions should the hiring manager take to protect the company from a discrimination lawsuit?
  • As it relates to salaries, for similarly qualified employees, in identical positions, do the dollar amounts have to be equal in order to be considered fair? Why or why not?
  • If both candidates were the same gender, to what extent would it be appropriate to raise the salary of the person who chose not to negotiate?

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Always remember, Leadership is a Lifestyle.

— Ryan W. Hirsch
Program Manager, NASBA Center for the Public Trust