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The Case of Pay Inequity

She’s the applicant the owner’s been dreaming of—he couldn’t just let her slip away!

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EVER SINCE DR. Kopelman’s office reopened after a monthlong COVID closing, he’d had trouble becoming fully staffed again. He was desperate to fill an open position and was willing to consider hiring just about anyone. His staff were dedicated to providing fantastic patient care but he feared they were stretched too thin.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved and should not be confused with real people or places. Responses are peer-sourced opinions and are not a substitute for professional legal advice. Please contact your attorney if you have any questions about an employee or customer situation in your own business.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carissa Dunphy has been working in private practice optometry since 2008 and is the founder of Optician Now (opticiannow.com). Follow Carissa on Instagram and Facebook at @opticiannow.

One morning, front desk employee Lindsey was checking the email and saw someone named Sam had applied. As she read the resume she got goosebumps because she seemed too good to be true. She brought the resume to Stephanie, the technician, who was also happily surprised. Together they took the resume to Dr. Kopelman.

“Take a look at this resume. It looks like she would be the perfect fit for our office.” Lindsey continued, “You have an hour tomorrow with no appointments. Should I try to schedule her then?”

Trying not to get his hopes up after being let down multiple times, Dr. Kopelman replied, “Sure, that would work well. Let’s hope she shows up!”

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At the end of the day, after locking the door, Lindsey exclaimed loudly, “I have Sam scheduled for an interview tomorrow at 2:00. Everybody cross your fingers!”

The next day Sam showed up early. She was dressed appropriately and left a fantastic first impression on every staff member. As she and Dr. Kopelman went into an exam room to meet, Stephanie whispered to Lindsey, “I feel like she’s the one. I hope the interview goes well.”

After a good 45 minutes Dr. Kopelman walked Sam to the front door. “Thank you for coming in—it was a pleasure getting to know you. I will talk with my team and get back to you very soon.”

Lindsey and Stephanie led the other employees, every one of them with big eyes and eager expressions. “Well?” Stephanie asked. “What do you think?”

“Sam seems like she would be a great personality fit for our team and her previous experience working in an OD’s office makes her a perfect candidate.” Dr. Kopelman continued, “I’ll give her a call at the end of the day and offer her the position. I don’t want her to get scooped up by anyone else.”

Dr. Kopelman called Sam that evening and offered her the position. Sam replied, “I really appreciate the offer. After meeting you and your team I am certain I would fit in well and I would bring value to your practice.
The job listing stated the hourly rate is $15, but I currently make $17 per hour. It would be difficult for me to take a pay cut but I would be willing to make a lateral move because I know I can show my worth to earn more later.”

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Without even needing to think about it, Dr. Kopelman responded, “I will match your rate. You will be a fantastic addition to our team and you are worth it.”

As they wrapped up their phone call they finalized a start date and Dr. Kopelman belatedly worried to himself, “I just hired someone and agreed to pay her a higher rate than several of my staff that have been here for years.”

The Big Questions

  • Dr. Kopelman was in a pinch and had to jump on the opportunity. Does he leave it at that and hope that the staff doesn’t talk about their pay rates?
  • Current employees would be crushed if they found out the new hire makes more than they do. Should the doctor proactively offer current employees additional pay or benefits to mitigate the pay inequity?
  • If he does nothing and the staff does find out, how should he handle the situation when confronted to retain his longtime valued employees?
Donna H.
Grove, MN

Dr. Kopelman should bring his valued current employees up to or above the hourly rate of the new hire. Aren’t current employees more valued than the unknown of a new hire?

Tory M.
Dumas, TX

This is where being proactive with your employees counts ahead of time. Each position in your office should have a written Pay Scale that documents what requirements are needed to reach certain levels of pay. This helps staff know what education levels, skills development, certifications, experience, etc. are needed to reach higher levels of pay and why different positions have different pay levels. Otherwise, if they don’t know what is required of them to reach higher pay, it’s like bowling in the dark. It gives them something specific to reach for to get to the next level. All Pay Scales should be included in your office manual. New hires should sign an acknowledgement form stating that they understand the contents, so they have no excuse not to know what each position’s salary range would be and the requirements are for each. You may still have an occasional entitled staff person get their feelings hurt, but then you remind them of the Pay Scales and why different positions and people have different pay rates.

Rick R.
Girard, PA
  • He can’t just leave it at that. The staff realizes he was in a pinch. These things, especially in a small office, always come back to haunt you.
  • He should have thought of that before he offered the job. Even if he offers more, which he should, there’s going to be hurt feelings that a brand new hire — and we all know it takes a good month before you know who you really hired — got more than loyal staff.
  • The problem with this is he may not find out. Instead he may be dealing with people leaving or not caring as much as they once did. That kind of situation is never good. Especially if the new hire isn’t what they all expected. Good luck, Dr. Kopelman.
Alex T.
Hampton Bays, NY

Up the pay of the existing employees to at least match the new employee’s salary, thereby eliminating the conflict.

Karen D.
Lewiston, ME

Let your dedicated employees know how much they are appreciated by giving them an extra paid week off and a gift card. Or bring dedicated staff up to $17 plus a gift card to show appreciation for hanging with the company during a skeleton crew.

James H.
Miami, FL

The exact same thing has happened in my office this past month. We have interviewed many people in the last few months without success. The new employee needed very little training and so far is working out great. But is it fair to some of the other employees that have lower salaries? Probably not. Therefore, in the New Year, I will give raises to all the employees. Raises and salary are still determined by job title and responsibility, so some will still be making less than the new employee.

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Anita R.
Collinsville, IL

If she has more experience than the existing staff, then no adjustment is needed. However, if her experience is the same or less than theirs, the existing staff should be brought up to her rate of pay at least. Existing staff deserve the same compensation as the new hire, as we all have a cost of living in today’s expensive world.

Katie W.
West Lebanon, NH

Because Sam comes with experience, I think offering her the pay rate she requested was fair. If Dr. Kopelman has other employees with the same skill set who have worked in the business as long as Sam has, it would be prudent to match the pay rate. If the doctor chooses not to do so, he should be prepared to lose valued staff when the truth comes out.

Kim M.
Great Bend, KS

He definitely needs to reevaluate current salaries for his existing staff. There’s nothing worse than loyal staff finding out — and they will find out — that they are not “valued” as much as someone new. Increases need to be reasonable in relation to the new hire and existing experience and skill levels of existing staff as well. “Pity raises” just to “ease” his conscience can be smelled a mile away. He’d be sending a real message that he doesn’t value the staff he currently has if he does nothing. I never cease to be amazed at the value placed on new hires versus existing staff; you know you have loyal staff with the current staff, but how loyal will the new hire be? Loyalty, longevity and knowledge base for the current practice with current staff should be valued. If there’s that much discrepancy in wages, then it’s time to reevaluate wages for current staff as well.

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Carissa Dunphy, ABOC, has been working in private practice optometry since 2008. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Optician Now (opticiannow.com) and recently launched opticalgifts.com. Follow Carissa on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter at @opticiannow.

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