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Thoughts on Equal Pay and the Law

By Victoria Plettner-Saunders

2019 employment lawsEvery January I like to share the latest in employment laws that go into effect at the start of a new year. This year, on a national level, there aren’t really any that apply to the work that we in the nonprofit arts and culture sector need to concern ourselves with. There are several states and/or municipalities that are increasing their minimum wages – that’s always a good thing. There are always too, new statewide laws that go into effect each year. It is a smart idea to check those out in your state – whether you’re an employer or an employee.

Along with things like minimum wage and overtime requirements, there are also several states legislating how compensation is reported as part of a hiring process, and what constitutes equal pay.

Boston, where it all began…

Let’s look at that last one first. You’ve probably heard the latest story out of the Boston Symphony Orchestra about Elizabeth Rowe, the Principal Flutist who is suing for pay that is equal to what her male counterpart John Ferrillo, Principal Oboist, and at least four others, receive. This is taking place as a result of the new the Massachusetts Equal Pay Law.

what do the flute and oboe have to do with equal pay?My colleague at WolfBrown, Tom Wolf has broken this down a little more as well.

Ferrillo is on her side and is quoted as saying to Mark Shanahan at the Boston Globe “I consider Elizabeth to be my peer and equal, at least as worthy of the compensation that I receive as I am.”

How can you get ahead when you’re always paid like the past?

As for how employers request salary history information in the hiring process, this one has a mixed mag of legislation. At least two states, Michigan and Wisconsin, have passed laws saying cities can not ban employers from requesting salary information from prospective employees. At least 11 states have statewide bans and 10 cities have local bans on employers requiring salary history.

While to some this may not seem like a big deal. We’re so used to seeing the requirement on job announcements we don’t think much about it. But it can be argued that an employer could use your salary history to keep your salary low based on your potentially previously low paying employers. You might be offered more than you are currently compensated but less than a competitive wage. And your next employer could do the same thing…keeping undercompensated.

Massachusetts was the first state to pass legislation making it illegal. The state of California also now makes it illegal.

If you want to know how your state swings you can check your state labor department’s website. But just know that passing the law doesn’t mean the conversation is over. In Philadelphia they are questioning if the ban on salary history is a violation of free speech.

What can we do?

There are two things that we can do to support both employers and employees in the compensation transparency quest: 1) employers can request that an employee state their  compensation requirements and 2) employers can state upfront what the compensation range is for the given position. Together these allow an employer “wiggle room” for negotiating and it let’s a job seeker know if the position will pay what they require. It helps everyone make better decisions about financial fit and it eliminates extra work for both – employers don’t get applicants who are looking for more pay than they can provide and job seekers can decide if its worth their time to apply in the first place.

Who said HR is boring?

Happy New Year!