A salary is a form of periodic payment from an employer to an employee, which may be specified in an employment contract. It is contrasted with piece wages, where each job, hour or other unit is paid separately, rather than on a periodic basis.
From the point of a view of running a business, salary can also be viewed as the cost of acquiring human resources for running operations, and is then termed personnel expense or salary expense. In accounting, salaries are recorded in payroll accounts.
First paid salary
While there is no first pay stub
for the first work-for-pay exchange, the first salaried work would have required a human society advanced enough to have a barter
system to allow work to be exchanged for goods or other work. More significantly, it presupposes the existence of organized employers --perhaps a government or a religious body--that would facilitate work-for-hire exchanges on a regular enough basis to constitute salaried work. From this, most infer that the first salary would have been paid in a village
during the Neolithic Revolution
, sometime between 10,000 BC and 6,000 BC.
By the time of the Hebrew Book of Ezra (550 BC to 450 BC), accepting salt from a person was synonymous with drawing sustenance, taking pay, or being in that person's service. At that time salt production was strictly controlled by the monarchy or ruling elite. Depending on the translation of Ezra 4:14, the servants of King Artaxerxes I of Persia explain their loyalty variously as "because we are salted with the salt of the palace" or "because we have maintenance from the king" or "because we are responsible to the king."'
The Roman word salarium
Similarly, the Roman word salarium
linked employment, salt and soldiers, but the exact link is unclear. The least common theory is that the word soldier
itself comes from the Latin sal dare
(to give salt). Alternatively, the Roman historian Pliny the Elder
stated as an aside in his Natural History's
discussion of sea water, that "[I]n Rome. . .the soldier's pay was originally salt and the word salary derives from it. . ." Plinius Naturalis Historia XXXI.
Others note that soldier
more likely derives from the
, with which soldiers were known to have been paid, and maintain instead that the salarium
was either an allowance for the purchase of salt
or the price of having soldiers conquer salt supplies
and guard the Salt Roads
) that led to Rome.
Payment in the Roman empire and medieval and pre-industrial Europe
Regardless of the exact connection, the salarium
paid to Roman soldiers has defined a form of work-for-hire ever since in the Western world
, and gave rise to such expressions as "being worth one's salt."
Yet within the Roman Empire or (later) medieval and pre-industrial Europe and its merchantile colonies, salaried employment appears to have been relatively rare and mostly limited to government service. More commonly, servitude either received no pay, as with slavery, serfdom, and indentured servitude, or received only fraction of what was produced, as with sharecropping. Other common alternative models of work included self- or co-operative employment, as with artisan guilds, or communal work and ownership, as with medieval universities and monasteries.
Payment during the Commercial Revolution
Even many of the jobs initially created by the Commercial Revolution
in the years from 1520 to 1650 and later during Industrialisation
in the 1700s and 1800s would not have been salaried, but, to the extent they were paid as employees, probably paid an hourly or daily wage
or paid per unit produced (also called piece work
Share in earnings as payment
of this time, such as the several East India Companies
, many managers would have been remunerated as owner-shareholders
. Such a remuneration
scheme is still common today in accounting
, investment, and law firm partnerships
where the leading professionals
partners, and do not technically receive a salary, but rather make a periodic "draw" against their share of annual earnings.
The Second Industrial Revolution and salaried payment
From 1870 to 1930, the Second Industrial Revolution
gave rise to the modern business corporation
powered by railroads, electricity and the telegraph and telephone. This era saw the widespread emergence of a class of salaried executives and administrators who served the new, large-scale
enterprises being created.
New managerial jobs lent themselves to salaried employment, in part because the effort and output of "office work" were hard to measure hourly or piecewise, and in part because they did not necessarily draw remuneration from share ownership.
As Japan rapidly industrialized in the 1900s, the idea of office work was novel enough that a new Japanese word (salaryman), was coined to describe those who performed it, and their remuneration.
Salaried employment in the 20th century
In the 20th century, the rise of the service economy
made salaried employment even more common in developed countries
, where the relative share of industrial production jobs declined, and the share of executive, administrative, computer, marketing, and creative jobs--all of which tended to be salaried--increased.
Salary and other forms of payment today
Today, the idea of a salary continues to evolve as part of a system of all the combined rewards that employers offer to employees. Salary (also now known as fixed pay) is coming to be seen as part of a "total rewards" system which includes variable pay (such as bonuses, incentive pay, and commissions), benefits and perquisites
(or perks), and various other tools which help employers link rewards to an employee's measured performance.
Salaries in the U.S.
In the a United States, the distinction between periodic salaries (which could be paid regardless of hours worked) and hourly wages (meeting a minimum wage test and providing for overtime) was first codified by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. At that time, five categories were identified as being "exempt" from minimum wage and overtime protections, and therefore salariable. In 1991, some computer workers were added as a sixth category. The tests for all six categories were revised effective August 23, 2004.
The six categories of salaried workers exempt from overtime provisions are:
(1) Executive Employees, who hire, fire and direct others;
(2) Administrative Employees, exercising discretion as part of office work;
(3) Learned Professional Employees, such as medical practitioners, lawyers, engineers, dentists, veterinarians, accountants;
(4) Creative Professional Employees in an artistic field; (5) Computer Employees, who must meet certain threshold tests; and (6) Outside Sales Employees, who must work away from an employer's place of business. Some of the 2004 exemption tests depend on being paid a weekly salary of greater than $455, even though no hourly minimum wage is required or maximum number of hours worked is established.
Further reading:Income in the United States