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Can you ask for pandemic back pay after successful year?

Dear J.T. & Dale: The pandemic hit last year right around the time of our annual reviews, and they ended up being put on hold. Nine months later, the company has had one of the best years in its history. Yet nobody has even made mention of any back pay to compensate us.

I know they are planning to resume annual reviews this year. Would it be appropriate to ask for money to make up for the fact that I didn’t get a review last time? – Quinn

J.T.: There is a delicate way you could bring this up prior to the actual review process. I would do a little homework, then set a meeting with your boss. Make a list of all of the responsibilities you were hired for, and then make a list of all the new responsibilities you’ve taken on over the past two years. Ideally, you should have a nice list of how you’ve grown and created additional value for the company. When you meet with your boss, go over this document and say, “I’d love to know what it’s going to take to earn a raise.” Also ask if your boss thinks it would be possible to earn a larger-than-normal raise to make up for the fact that you were not given the opportunity to earn one last year. Be sure to include how excited you are to continue to grow your role at the company. When your boss hears the sincerity in your voice and the polite way you are inquiring, you will have a shot at getting the answer you’re looking for.

DALE: That’s first-rate advice. Notice, though, what J.T. did NOT mention: Back pay. I’m picturing the terror in the eyes of management if someone suggests trying to figure out what raises everyone might have gotten a year ago and then paying them out as back pay, as a debt owed. Instead, what should happen is that the company pays generous bonuses. However, those would be company-wide and probably not something your boss can initiate. Let’s hope your upper management is thinking about how to share the success of last year with everyone, while you focus on a generous raise for yourself.


Dear J.T. & Dale: I’ve noticed lately on social media that people talk about being in a “toxic workplace” or having a “toxic boss.” However, when they start to describe the behavior, it just sounds like they’re getting critical feedback and they don’t like it. Do you think that discussions of toxic behavior are out of proportion? – Corrine

DALE: Ah, Corinne, you’re talking straight to the heart of this lover of language. But, there are two kinds of us language lovers: Purists and extremists. It sounds as though you are one of the former, someone who knows that “toxic” means “poisonous,” with connotations of danger and even death. So, yes, using “toxic” to describe a critical manager is clearly an overstatement. However, that brings me to the other type of language lovers: The ones, like me, who like to play with exaggeration and, in this case, want to recognize the dangers of bad workplaces. After all, the wrong environment can stunt the growth of your career and/or damage your health – mental and physical.

J.T.: Social media has definitely increased the discussion around bad work environments. And like you, Corrine, I’ve noticed that the word “toxic” is being used more frequently, often in situations where people just weren’t performing well and weren’t happy with critical feedback. That being said, it really does come down to tone and delivery of feedback. There are plenty of old-school managers who believe it’s OK to yell at people and criticize them publicly. That is just unacceptable. In my experience as a manager, it’s just as easy to pull somebody aside and have a sincere and kind conversation about performance. So while “toxic” may be overused, more often it’s a case of people talking about outdated management styles. This is the age of emotional intelligence, and managers need to up their game if they want to keep the respect of employees.

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a career coach and the founder of the leading career site Dale Dauten is founder of The Innovators’ Lab and author of a novel about H.R., “The Weary Optimist.” Please visit them at, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. (c) 2021 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.