Answering your questions

July 20, 2014


Can you give some advice on how to best research whether there is a trend to compensate microbiologists vs. peers who work in other hospital lab departments?


One of the most difficult and sensitive areas to manage is worker compensation. Fair pay for equal work has been a longtime bone of contention for many employees and employers. In many businesses, it is a question of supply and demand. For those professions in high demand today, salaries may be fairly substantial. However, as college graduates gravitate to the higher-paying jobs, they eventually saturate the market; thus supply and demand stagnate.

In delving into what is fair pay for clinical laboratory professionals, several resources are available that provide annual or biannual salary updates based on national surveys: Medical Laboratory Observer (MLO), American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), collectively provide data based on geographic location, various metropolitan cities, type of employer, and laboratory section.1-3

It’s important to remember that national surveys are highly dependent on receiving an adequate number of responses and are ideally effective when there is fair representation by geographical location, facility type, gender, age, position longevity, job title, certification, and/or licensure. Unfortunately, that does not always happen, so understand that the results may reflect some bias if any one particular data collection parameter is underrepresented.

With that in mind, some comparative salary averages (or means) are noted below: 

Average Salaries








Clinical Laboratory




Scientist (CLS)




Clinical Laboratory




Technician (CLT)












Location: Keeping in mind the caveat above about numbers of responses and the possibility of skewed data when any parameter may be underrepresented, upon reviewing these data, it appears that the geographical location can make a big difference in base salaries.3 

The average salary in California is $77,550, while in Nebraska it is $47,890, and in Puerto Rico, $31,790. San Francisco salaries are just over $91,000, Boston over $68,000, and Atlanta $57,000. In general, the average salary in the Pacific region is $88,773, Mountain region $73,536, Central $64,523, Northeast $72,838, and Southeast 70,155.1 These salaries relate to the cost of living in those areas and the local supply and demand of available technologists/technicians.

Work facility, certification, unions, and licensure: The type of workplace may also influence salary levels. Certified laboratory professionals tend to make slightly higher salaries than non-certified.2 Union representation often leads to negotiated across-the-board pay raises, which can add up to a significant salary over a period of years. Licensure requirements can limit the pool of hirable candidates, thus creating, once again, a supply-and-demand situation. While none of the surveys addressed the latter two issues specifically, experience has shown that unions and licensure can have an impact on hiring requirements and competitive salaries.  

Salary differentials: When setting salary rates, one needs to consider some additional factors. Creating a criterion-based job description that clearly spells out duties, responsibilities, and accountabilities can serve as a template for justifying salary level stratification.4 In general, the more responsibility and accountability assumed by an individual, the more reasonable it is to pay a higher salary. Other key factors include longevity of service, education, employee performance, any shift/weekend differentials, on-call pay, and overtime (salaried vs. hourly).

Consider benefit packages: One point to consider is employer-sponsored benefits. What many fail to realize is that benefits are an expense to the employer at rates ranging from 10% to 30% of an employee’s base salary. Benefits can include healthcare, dental care, vision care, child daycare, vacation/holiday time, sick leave, pension/401K contributions, parking reimbursement, tuition reimbursement, and tax-deferred savings plans. These expenses are real, yet most employees may not appreciate them until they lose them, or switch jobs that may offer a higher base salary but with a reduced benefit package.  

The individual:  Adjusting salaries based on supply and demand and what an individual contributes to the laboratory is often the best course of action. Recognizing individuals through monetary compensation may be appropriate and justified if they show the desire to go the extra mile, making themselves unusually valuable members of the team. Rewarding tenure over performance leads to an entitlement frame of mind that does not always justify paying a higher salary.5

Salaries still remain disparate when considering gender. In some areas of the country there is little difference; however, in other areas the difference ranges from $7,000 to $17,000 in favor of males. In the Southeast, males may make up to $20,000 more than females.1  

Conclusion: Performing your own survey among laboratories within your area can give you a more realistic view of local competitive salaries. This is often best handled through the Human Resources Office, which may have better access to HR personnel from other institutions. This also lends itself to some level of confidentiality that otherwise might be compromised or might inhibit the willingness to share information among fellow laboratorians. Nothing leads to poor employee morale, decreased productivity, co-worker jealousy, and hard feelings then feeling undervalued. Relying on salary benchmarks can serve as a guide but should not be the absolute driver in establishing base salaries.


  1. MLO Staff. Results of the 2014 MLO annual salary survey. Med Lab Observ, March 2014;
  2. Garcia E. The American Society for Clinical Pathology’s 2013 wage survey of clinical laboratories in the United States. Lab Med.2013;44(4):372-375.
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Occupational employment and wages, May 2012. .Accessed May 23, 2014.
  4. Kurec AS. Employee selection, in Clinical Laboratory Management, 2ed. LS Garcia, ed. American Society for Microbiology: Washington DC. 2013, Chapter 15.
  5. Branham L. The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave. AMACOM: New York. Chapter 5, 2005.