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posted: 7/27/2014 7:38 AM

Work Advice: What to do when maxed on raises

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Q: Over 15 years, I have worked my way up the corporate ladder with the same organization. I have been given a raise every year and excellent reviews, as well as several promotions.

At my last annual review, my boss told me that I make too much money and that I would no longer be given a raise, no matter how long I stay or what kind of work I do. She said she has this same arrangement with several other employees.

Is this a common practice? Should I be reading something into this? I have a few decades until retirement and had planned to stick with this company for at least another five or 10 years.

A: Raises are never guaranteed. Employers use them to reward employees or entice them to stay, but there is a limit to how much employers are willing to increase even a highly valued worker's pay.

In "good companies with compensation systems and rules, there is a range of salary that a job is worth," according to Deb Keary, vice president for human resources at the Society for Human Resource Management. A worker who spends years in that job with annual pay increases will eventually bump into that maximum salary limit. Sometimes employers will give lump-sum awards when raises aren't possible, Keary says -- but otherwise, changing your pay rate means changing your duties, rank or employer. It doesn't sound as though changing your duties or rank at your current workplace is an option, however -- which suggests that either the compensation structure is out of whack, or your company isn't overly concerned about retaining you as an employee.

Now that you know what your employer is willing to give you, the question becomes: What are you willing to accept? A paycheck is only one part of a compensation package, so maybe it's worth it to stick around and enjoy the view from your pay plateau. Or maybe you'll want to take a hike sooner than you had planned and see if you can reach higher ground elsewhere. Despite conventional wisdom about rolling stones, many workers find that a change of scenery is the best way to pick up more green.

Q: On May 11, you said the Department of Labor requires employers to pay for or reimburse workers for uniforms if the expense reduces their weekly pay below minimum wage. What if it doesn't? My employer has decided to "color code" our departments. I had to buy all new scrubs in my department's new color. I am fortunate to have a well-paying job, but felt very inconvenienced at having to buy all new uniforms!

A: I checked back with Elaine Fitch, at the employment law firm Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch. Under federal law, you're out of luck if you're still making more than minimum wage -- but your state may have its own rules about reimbursement for work clothing. It's worth checking out. (And wouldn't color-coded badges have sufficed? Sheesh.)

• Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office. You can find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork.

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