Pay equity and salary-setting guidance

This page was updated August 1, 2022.

Pay Equity

The Washington State Equal Pay and Opportunities Act (EPOA) promotes fairness through:

Equal pay. Employers must provide equal compensation to similarly employed workers, except for specific reasons unrelated to gender such as: education, training, or experience; a seniority system; a merit system; measuring earnings by production quantity or quality; and a bona fide regional difference in compensation levels. Other reasons for a difference in pay that may be acceptable include job-related factors consistent with business need, reasons not based on or derived from a gender differential, and local minimum wage laws. An individual’s previous wage or salary history is not a defense under the law. Employees are similarly employed if the individuals work for the same employer, the performance of the job requires similar skill, effort, and responsibility, and the jobs are performed under similar working conditions. Job titles or job profiles alone are not determinative of whether employees are similarly employed.

Equal career advancement opportunities. Employers must not limit or deprive an employee of career advancement opportunities based on gender.

Permitting open wage discussions. Employers cannot prohibit employees from discussing their wages with other workers or make employees agree not to discuss their wages. However, an employer may prohibit an employee who has access to compensation information of other employees or applicants as part of such employee’s essential job functions from disclosing the wages of the other employees or applicants to individuals who do not otherwise have access to such information, unless the disclosure is in response to a complaint or charge, in furtherance of an investigation, or consistent with the employer’s legal duty to provide the information and the disclosure is part of the employee’s essential job functions. An employee described in this subsection otherwise has the protections of this section, including to disclose the employee’s own wages without retaliation.

Protection from discrimination, retaliation and firing. Employers cannot take any negative action against an employee for discussing wages, filing a complaint or exercising other rights under the Equal Pay Opportunity Act.

On July 28, 2019, House Bill 1696 amended the EPOA. Under these additional provisions employers are prohibited from:

  • Asking an applicant for wage or salary history;
  • Asking an applicant’s current or former employer for wage or salary history;
  • Requiring an applicant’s prior wage or salary meet certain criteria, e.g., meet a certain level or threshold.

The law also requires employers to:

  • Provide the minimum wage or salary for the position if asked for by the final candidate after the job offer has been extended;
  • Provide the minimum wage or salary for the employee’s new position, at the employee’s request, once an offer has been extended to an internal candidate for a promotion, demotion or transfer;
  • If no wage scale or salary range exists, provide the minimum wage or salary expectation set by the employer prior to posting the position.

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Initial Wage and Salary Setting Guidance

A multitude of factors may be taken into account when setting wages for new hires or employees changing jobs within the institution.

Generally speaking, wages and salaries should be set based on consideration of the following criteria:

  • Position requirements – Consider the range for the position and ensure the salary you are proposing falls within the range.
  • Applicant qualifications – Consider the education, training, and experience of the candidate.
  • Market ranges – Consider the market range for the position.
  • Internal equity – Consider what other similarly employed employees are being paid. Similarly employed means that the job requires similar skill, effort, and responsibility and is performed under similar working conditions. In addition, just because two people are in the same job profile does not automatically mean they are similarly employed.
  • Local minimum wage laws – Ensure that the wage meets or exceeds any minimum wage requirement
  • Other – Seniority system, merit system, bona fide regional differences in compensation levels such as those between Seattle and Spokane, measures of quantity or quality, budget constraints, etc.

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When determining what wage to set, you may not:

  • Seek the wage or salary history of an applicant, either from the applicant or their current or former employer.
  • Require that an applicants’ prior wage or salary meet certain criteria, e.g., meet a certain level or threshold.

After an offer has been extended, upon the candidate’s request, employers must provide the minimum wage or salary for the position for which the applicant is applying. Likewise, upon the request of an employee offered an internal promotion/demotion/transfer, the employer must provide the minimum of the wage scale or salary range for the employee’s new position. For positions that have no market or grade range, such as professional staff project positions, upon request the employer must provide the hiring range minimum. Hiring ranges for professional staff project positions are set in comparison to the most similar regular professional staff job profile, where such a comparison is possible.

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Professional Staff and Other Civil Service Exempt Staff

The compensation philosophy for professional staff is to seek pay that is externally competitive and internally equitable.

Professional staff salaries in grades 5 through 10 must pay at least the market range minimum. Professional staff jobs in grades 11 through 14, which do not have market ranges, must be paid at least the grade minimum.

Professional staff overview

Compensation reviews hiring ranges and upon request consults with employing officials about offers; approval is based on a review of internal salary relationships, external market rates, and individual qualifications. Offers above the market maximum for professional staff positions in grades 5 through 10 require approval by Compensation.

Salary setting for internal promotions or demotions applies the same factors that are used for newly hired employees. The focus is on the duties performed in the new position and may not take current salary into account unless the current salary is volunteered by the applicant.

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Classified Staff

All classified employees are paid within the salary range of the job profile and job code assigned when the position is created. The initial step placement is set by considering experience and education or as outlined in the individual’s collective bargaining agreement.

A classified employee receives salary step increases in accordance with the contract or rules covering the position until the employee reaches the top automatic step of the salary range, after which there are no more automatic step increases. In this case, current salary must be taken into account to comply with the contract or rules in order to give the appropriate increase.

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Student Hourly Employees

Student hourly employee compensation is outlined on the student employee compensation webpage.

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