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Connecticut’s New Law Defangs the Dreaded “Salary Requirements” Question

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We’ve all seen it, the job posting that requires you to tell the employer what you expect to be paid when you know next to nothing about the job. There’s some logic to asking the question, there’s no point in interviewing you for a job you would not accept. As the job applicant, you’ve got to ask yourself “Do I feel lucky?” You don’t want to undermine your potential earnings by giving a number that is too low, but if you go too high you will not get an interview.

In the real world, private employers rarely advertise the expected wage range for a position. Applicants fortunate enough to work with recruiters generally receive salary range info before they agree to have their resumes submitted to the prospective employer, but knowing ahead of time the wage range of a job has always been the exception rather than the rule.

This contributes to the reason why, 58 years after the Equal Pay Act was enacted, all women earn 84% of what all men earn (according to Pew Research Center). The good news: the wage gap is trending toward closing, and in the year 2111, we will reach the promised land (according to American Association of University Women). When you cut the data to show the wage gap between white men and Black, Latina, and white women, you find a wage gap that is not trending toward ever closing for Black women, trending to close in 2197 for Latinas, and 2075 for white women. (See id.)

Pay equity may come sooner in Connecticut, thanks to a new law enacted on October 1, 2021. The first section of Public Act No. 21-30, “An Act Concerning the Disclosure of Salary Range for a Vacant Position,” modifies Connecticut General Statutes § 31-40z to require employers to provide applicants the wage range for a job at the applicant’s request and/or when the employer makes the applicant a job offer. The employer is also required to provide a wage range when the new employee is hired, changes position within the company, and upon the employee’s request.

The law is not perfect, there is a chicken-or-egg problem, and overlap between what must be disclosed to applicants and the newly hired. For example, you have to be a “job applicant” to get the wage range. “Potential job applicants” are not entitled to the info so the law does not help you to know whether it is worth your while to apply before you’ve applied. It does not prohibit the employer from asking for your salary requirements. It does, however, allow you to put the employer on the spot, and will help save the time wasted interviewing for a position that does not pay well.

Since the employer is required to disclose the wage range for a position when it makes a job offer, why is it also required to disclose the wage range when the person accepts an offer is actually hired? It seems unlikely that the wage range will have changed between the two events.

My cynical side sees broad opportunity for abuse with these two disclosures, especially for at-will employees. Consider an employer disclosing a wide wage range to a potential employee when they make the job offer. The employer offers something just below the median and the employee negotiates her wages to something above the median. Even though it is lower than what she wanted, she accepts the job because the wage range suggests a lot of room for wage growth.

Then she shows up for her first day of work and is handed a new wage range as a newly-hired employee. The range is much narrower and her salary is so close to the top of the range that her earning potential in her new job has already peaked. And there is not a darn thing she can do about it. Since she’s an at-will employee, it doesn’t matter what her employer represented about the position before she was hired. The employer can move the goal posts at will, and she can quit if she doesn’t like it.

The second section of Public Act No. 21-30, modifies Conn. Gen. Stat. § 31-75. The statute combats unequal pay in another, more direct, way by modifying the language of the statute from one that requires equal pay for “equal” work, to something more holistic. The statute used to prohibit employers from paying lower wages to one sex for “equal work on the job, the performance of which requires equal skill, effort and responsibility.” This was extremely difficult to prove because what two jobs require “equal” skill, effort, and responsibility? What if the skill and effort are equal, but the female employee is responsible for one fewer widget than the male employee? What does “equal” skill and effort even mean?

Now, the statute prohibits wage discrimination for “comparable work on the job, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort and responsibility…” This makes it much clearer that jobs and the employees’ backgrounds do not have to be identical. If the sum of skill, effort and responsibility for Job A, balances with the sum of skill, effort and responsibility for Job B, compensation for the two jobs should be comparable.

The new law also clarifies the defenses to wage discrimination claims by expanding upon the “factors other than sex” that would justify a wage differential. These factors include education, training, geographic location, and experience. I view this change as neutral – it does not benefit the employer or the employee. It just expands on a list of possible factors that was not conclusive to begin with.

The new law is not revolutionary, but it is a step in the right direction. Someday, someday women will see pay equity.

If you would like more information about this topic, please contact our employment attorneys at Carey & Associates, P.C. at info@capclaw.com.