Can You Be Fired For Asking For a Raise?

Last Updated Mar 14, 2011 6:28 AM EDT

Can you be fired for asking for a raise?

Of course. You can also be fired for picking your nose, wearing ugly shoes, and getting on the boss's nerves. In fact, the only things you can't be fired for are those things that are protected by law. (For instance, race, gender, pregnancy, disability and, increasingly, Facebook posts, although don't quote me on that last one.)

My BNET colleague, Kimberly Weisul, reported on a study that seemed to indicate the easiest way to get a raise was to ask for one. Rather quickly, the comments started filling up with people asking if it was possible to get fired for asking for a raise. BNET commenter SueGallo shared her bad story:

I asked for a raise and was fired. I was a consultant, and my client asked me to become a division manager (which was a new pay level for my company) and thought if the company would bill more for my time for a position I won for the company, I should also be paid more. My company disagreed. Then I was hired by a competing firm to do the same job (the client wanted me in that position). Even with a "happy" ending I won't ask for a raise again.
Lovely and not normal. Most of the time you won't be fired for asking for a raise, even though it's almost always legal to do so. (Exceptions would be if you ask in the context of pointing out that you are being paid less than your coworkers who perform similar tasks at similar skill levels who are all a different race than you are, for instance.)

But, why would this be a concern on so many people's minds? What on earth would make a boss fire someone for asking a completely logical and understandable question. We all want to make more money. Here are 6 reasons why you may be fired, or otherwise punished, when you ask for a raise.

  1. You are incompetent and don't recognize it. Yes, let's start with blaming the victim, but there are some completely inept, incapable and incompetent people out there who are utterly convinced that they are geniuses and are deserving of huge raises, promotions and company cars. You have worked with some of these people. If you were their managers, you'd be likely to want to fire them for asking for a completely undeserved raise.
  2. Your request is seen as ungrateful. This is most likely to happen in a small business where the boss is the owner. Sometimes these people see their employees as people who would be homeless if it wasn't for their largess in giving jobs out, as if it were free candy. They fail to recognize that your work benefits them. So, when you ask one of these people for a raise, they think you should be grateful just to be employed, and when you're not, it's time for you to hit the road.
  3. The boss doesn't like to be wrong. When you come asking for a raise, you're also saying that you think the boss is wrong. That if she were smart and attentive, she would know that you deserve a raise. This is especially likely to happen if you try to go over this person's head, to HR or the boss's boss. Bosses like this take such requests as personal attacks.
  4. You won't take no for an answer. Sometimes the answer will be no and you need to learn to deal with it. There are some employees who repeatedly ask for raises and promotions and ignore the boss's increasingly annoyed negative responses. When you're fired, or otherwise punished after you ask for a raise for the 15th time, it's not your question, it's the annoyance of it being repeated.
  5. Your boss is just a complete whack job. It's entirely possible that you have the misfortune of working for an irrational jerk. You managed to tick him off just the right (wrong?) way by asking and it's pink slip time for you.
  6. You've presented your boss with an ultimatum. "Either you give me a raise or I'm quitting!" May well result in the boss firing you before you can get that letter of resignation written. Only issue ultimatums when you really mean it.
After reading all these possibilities, calm down. It's rare to be fired for asking for a raise. It's more likely you'll get one, especially if you have good reasons for deserving one. I don't think it's as high as 85% as the Accenture study seems to indicate. They asked people if they had ever asked for a raise (note the plural nature of that question) and then asked what the result (singular) was. My bet is that (like me) people have asked for raises more than once and been successful at least one of those times, but not every one. Still, unless you think your situation falls into one of the above categories (and if you're number 1, you're too stupid to recognize it anyway), and a raise is justified, go ahead and ask.

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