Q: After completing an online salary survey, I realized that I am seriously underpaid. I would apparently need a 14-percent increase to reach the average pay for my position. I was too terrified to mention this during my review, and I've now learned that my raise this year will only be 4 percent.

Since finishing college three years ago, I have worked for this company as a software developer. My manager says that I have made a significant contribution to improving our products. As far as I know, the business is doing well, so is it unreasonable to ask him to bring my pay up to average?

A: There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking to be paid appropriately. But before jumping to conclusions based on limited data, you should check the accuracy of your assumptions. If your increase request is based solely on general data from a single source, your manager may quickly dismiss it.

Although online surveys can be useful for broad comparisons, these salary websites vary greatly in the amount and type of data they collect. And even the most comprehensive internet resource cannot predict exactly where you should fall in your company's pay system. Many local factors will influence that determination.

So before concluding that you are due a 14-percent pay bump, ask your human resources manager how salaries are determined. Do not inquire about how much your co-workers are making. Simply explain that you would like to understand the decisionmaking process.

If developer jobs are classified at different pay grades, find out what qualifications cause them to be ranked higher or lower. Ask about the salary range for your own pay grade and determine where you fall. Understanding your current salary will help you decide whether to request an increase.

If the above paragraph makes no sense to you, familiarize yourself with compensation terminology before having this conversation. Then, if you continue to believe you are underpaid, screw up your courage and make a logical case for a raise.

Q: My friend was accused of falsifying her time sheet and subsequently terminated. During the investigation, she was instructed by human resources to write a statement describing her offense, then sign it. Was it unethical for HR to have my friend incriminate herself? And shouldn't she have been advised to consult a lawyer?

A: In the legal system, there are circumstances under which people must be instructed about self-incrimination or obtaining legal counsel. But the workplace does not operate like the legal system.

Also, you seem to have omitted one key fact — that is, whether your friend was guilty. If so, then management was simply asking her to verify the circumstances that led to her termination. But if your friend did not commit this offense, then she should not have signed a statement saying she did. And even though management had no obligation to suggest it, consulting an attorney might have been a wise move.

Editor's note: Liz Reyer is off this week.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics."