can an employer fire you for asking for a raise

That seems like a simple question, right? Can an employer fire you for asking for a raise? If you are an at-will employee, then the answer is yes. 

Does it suck? Absolutely. However, there is no law against firing someone for asking for a raise, even if it is a bad business practice.

Like most things in the world of work, asking for a raise is a delicate situation that requires some finessing, an understanding of the office politics in your workplace and knowing where you sit in the company in terms of performance and how you work with others. 

Asking for a raise can get you fired, but the reason won’t be solely because you asked.

Why Do People Get Fired for Asking for a Raise?

First, let’s start by defining at-will employment. At-will employment means that an employer can fire an employee for any reason (except an illegal reason) or for no reason without incurring legal liability.

Almost every professional in today’s workforce is an at-will employee in at-will states. The only state that isn’t an at-will state is Montana. Legislators there enacted the Wrongful Discharge From Employment Act (WDFEA), which protects employees from wrongful termination while giving employers the need for protection from poor employee performance or bad behavior. 

Basically, you can get fired for just about anything, unless it’s something protected by federal law, such as sexual orientation, race, etc. This is especially true as an at-will employee, which frankly makes navigating the workplace a bit more complicated. However, just asking for a raise doesn’t usually result in your termination, even if there are multiple factors to consider before you go and ask for that raise. 

Let’s say you’ve been with the company for a little over a year. In that year, you’ve missed deadlines (based on your own doing), delivered subpar work, been late numerous times, forgotten parts of assignments and found excuses to not show up for important events. Knowing all this, will you go and ask for that raise?

I hate to break it to you, but if you go to your manager with all of that to back you up, I can guarantee that you aren’t getting that raise. Instead, that meeting will go up in flames and only highlight everything you have done until that point. I promise, not getting a raise will be the last thing you’ll worry about. 

How Should You Ask for a Raise?

First and foremost, when you are asking for a raise, you need to actually be set up for a raise. Walking up to your boss right after you start working there and asking for a raise isn’t the best idea. 

It’s good to wait at least six months after starting with an employer to ask for a raise. Most companies will give you a raise once the employee has passed the 12-month mark. If you’re multiple years into your tenure, you can feel comfortable asking for a raise at least once a year. 

Asking for a raise isn’t as simple as you may think. Asking for a raise is a delicate practice that requires intention and facts to back up your request.  

So before you march into your manager’s office, take a few steps back and gear up.

What’s Your Value?

You initially got your job role because your skills matched the job description, and you probably had the experience to back it up. But what’s happened since your onboarding? How has your presence and performance changed or improved the company’s processes and results? 

These are all questions and factors that your manager is looking at when considering giving you a raise. Your task here is showing how your skills and presence are excellent today and valuable to the company’s long-term objectives. 

Once you’ve established how you’ve positively contributed to the company, it’s essential to look at the industry standards for your salary. How does your current salary — combined with your skills and certifications (if any) — compare with the industry average and with people who are in similar positions? Before heading into that meeting, get as much information as you can to back up why you deserve a raise.

Don’t Go for the “Sympathy Card”

Sorry to break it to you, but your managers aren’t your life coach. They aren’t the ones to go to complain that your salary doesn’t match your cost of living. Right now, 64% of workers in the U.S. are living paycheck to paycheck

Everyone is feeling the effects of inflation, from the high cost of living, rising gas prices and paying nearly $10 for a cup of coffee. The coffee part might be an exaggeration, but I think you get the point. We are all dealing with and trying to recover from world events, but telling your employer that you want a raise because your salary doesn’t match your cost of living will get you nowhere. 

There is only so much sympathy that managers will have, and when it comes to paying, feelings aren’t a factor. If they were, then we’d all get the salary we want. 

Along these lines, another thing to remember is that having a good relationship with your boss doesn’t guarantee you a raise. You might receive plenty of sympathy points that you can tuck away for another time, but there isn’t room for emotional pleas when it comes to talking about your salary. Be straight with what you are asking for and use facts, not sympathy, to make your case.

Practice What You Want to Say with Confidence

Practice, practice, practice! When you prepare for your presentation and what you want to ask for, you’ll come across as confident. 

While walking up to your boss and asking for a raise on the spot can work for some people, it’s not a method I’d encourage for you. Even when you have all the facts to back up your raise request, springing it on your boss can leave you jumbled, leading to you forgetting the most important parts of your argument. 

Record the facts you want to present. Make a list on your phone, write on sticky notes or make a whole presentation — whatever way you choose to prepare — just take the time to collect the facts. Then I want you to stand in front of your mirror to practice. Or you can grab a colleague, friend or family member. Practice exactly what you want to say and get feedback and tips on what you might say instead. 

Be Specific About What You Ask For

You’ve got the facts, but if you aren’t specific about the raise amount you want, you may just cheat yourself out of what you could get.

For instance, if you go to your boss and simply ask for a raise without a specific number or percentage, your manager will take advantage of that and try to provide you with the lowest possible raise. This tactic stinks in the “age of transparency,” but it’s not uncommon in the world of work. 

Typically, a standard salary increase is between 3% and 5%. Still, you shouldn’t let that stop you from asking for more — especially if you’re making less than the industry average or state average, even with all your skills and qualifications.

Preparing Isn’t Always a Guarantee

The story goes like this. 

You did all the work, researched the industry averages, practiced what you wanted to say and proved that you are a valuable asset to your workplace. But even after all this work, your manager still said no. It sucks to get that rejection, but this is a common result.

Getting turned down for a raise is a strong possibility no matter what. Some of the reasons include:

  • The company wasn’t profitable in the last quarter or year, so giving out raises isn’t a wise business decision for the time being. 
  • Your performance hasn’t met the metrics put in place by your manager.
  • Your salary is either at or above the industry average already.
  • In some cases, it’s just bad timing.

If you get denied a raise, don’t sweat it. Stay calm, and ask your manager why your request has been turned down. Sometimes, it has nothing to do with you; instead, it’s the company. Yes, it’s not you; it’s them — but for real this time.

Asking for a raise is tricky. Can an employer fire you for asking for a raise? Yes. More often than not, that only happens in toxic work environments, as it’s a bad workplace practice. But most of the time, going through the process of asking for a raise can give you insight into how you can improve and educate you about what your company expects when it comes to advancement.