Above one’s pay grade

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Above one’s pay grade is an idiom that first appeared in the twentieth century. We will examine the definition of the phrase above one’s pay grade, where it most probably came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

Above one’s pay grade is a phrase that describes a situation that is outside one’s scope of responsibility, a decision that must be made by people of a higher rank. Something that is above one’s pay grade requires more knowledge than that person has, or more authority than that person can wield. Above one’s pay grade is an American idiom, stemming from the salary and wage compensation system used in the United States Armed Forces and the Federal Employee system. In the armed forces, the pay scale is contingent on a person’s rank and years of service. Several levels exists within most ranks. Federal employees are also compensated through a pay grade system, but it is much more complicated. The job titles of all federal positions fall under a certain classification, according to the pay grade system, which dictates the pay range. Whether the position is managerial, clerical or professional, the annual salary must fall within a salary range as dictated by the pay grade system. Very little bargaining is possible, as the rate of pay that one may earn while employed in a particular position adheres to strict guidelines. The grade system is divided into grades and steps, allowing for some flexibility in assigning the base salary of the starting salary of a new employee, which may be adjusted during a negotiation according to qualifications, education and experience. Being a veteran can help a candidate secure a federal job. Advancement involves a yearly evaluation determining accountability in relation to duties and responsibilities that have been fulfilled. This may result in a promotion, an action plan that outlines how the employee may improve his performance, or even dismissal. Another payroll incentive for an excellent worker is the bonus. Bonuses are awarded as part of a total compensation package when employees perform above and beyond their job description. In certain areas of the United States that are expensive to live in, a cost of living adjustment is added to one’s paycheck. The use of the idiom above one’s pay grade dates back at least to the 1960s, and originated in the United States Armed Forces.


“This is way above my pay grade but since I’m the one with access to communication, and some people seem desperate for official word, it’s safe to say that we will not have school tomorrow.” (The Northwest Florida Daily News)

Though Freeman said it was “above my pay grade” to determine whether the lineup needs some free agent help, it’s obvious Atlanta could use some more power in the cleanup spot. (USA Today)

On the question of whether animals go to heaven, Bishop Daniel begged off, saying it was “above my pay grade,” but that he sure hoped they do. (The New York Times)

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