How to ask about compensation with new pay law

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Q: For many years I have asked candidates about their current and past compensation.  A colleague told me we could no longer ask this question.  How am I supposed to assess if an applicant falls within our prescribed salary ranges?  I have not read anything about this in the news.

A: On July 1, 2018, the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (MEPA) will go into effect.  The goal of MEPA to ensure that there is internal equity for all, within Massachusetts businesses.

One provision of MEPA prohibits Massachusetts employers from asking candidates about their current compensation or their compensation history.  Employers can no longer ask about wages, either verbally or within an employment application.  Employers should review their hiring processes and any employment application that they currently use.

One of the primary drivers of this part of the law is that past compensation disparities may continue if an employer bases a new salary on a candidate’s compensation history.  In Massachusetts, women make approximately 84% of what men earn.  There are even greater pay disparities if we compare men to women of color.

Candidates can voluntarily share their current or past compensation.  However, you as the employer, can not ask.  You can also not request a placement or search firm to ask on your company’s behalf.

A different approach that may help is asking a candidate about what their expectations are for their next role.  One question that I have begun asking, to prepare for July 1st, “What are you hoping to make in your next role?”  Some candidates share their current or past compensation.  Some do not.  Either way, you will still learn what the candidate expects to earn in their next role.  This answer will likely give you the information you need, specifically what a candidate expects to make in their next role. This is helpful information for you to know.  If a candidate has a compensation expectation out of your company’s compensation range, you can have a conversation about what your company hopes to pay for that role.  Sometimes a candidate will demonstrate flexibility, but sometimes they will not.

The Attorney General of Massachusetts has published some helpful information which you might want to review, https://www.mass.gov/service-details/overview-of-the-massachusetts-equal-pay-law.  This is a helpful review of the law for employers, employees and candidates.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.

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