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Merit Pay

This page provides examples of Washington local government policies that provide a merit pay system for their employees.


Most, if not all, employees, be they employed by a government agency or otherwise, hope for periodic wage increases. It is not uncommon for workers to be given a cost of living increase, recognizing that the cost of goods and services are increasing. Some jurisdictions will also recognize an employee's worth to the organization based upon his or her years of service and other jurisdictions may choose to base any wage increases that they may provide upon the "merit" that an employee has achieved. Has a particular employee met or surpassed all of his or her employment goals? Has the employee worked efficiently? Have the employee's achievements resulted in savings? Depending upon the employee's performance, he or she may be rewarded by a wage increase in recognition of the merit of the employee's work.

Unless a merit pay system is carefully constructed, there is a risk that any additional wage provided in recognition of the employee's merit could be considered a gift, which would violate the state constitution. Thus, criteria for a merit wage increase must be adopted in advance of any work being performed so that an employee will know that if the criteria is met or exceeded, a wage increase will follow, not as a gift but in recognition that the certain work goals have been met.

Examples of Policies

The following are some examples of merit pay plans that have been adopted by Washington jurisdictions.

Recommended Resources

The following two articles provide general background information reviewing the benefits of using a merit pay system and issues that should be considered in the development of a merit pay system.

Last Modified: November 14, 2018