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Ask HR: Who Is Responsible for Ensuring Pay Equity?

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here. 

Someone recently shared companywide salary information with me. Looking at the data, I am concerned that there are substantial salary discrepancies at my company among people doing comparable work. Should I address this with leadership or HR? Are companies required to have some level of transparency when it comes to salary?—Amy

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Employers and employees have wrestled with this really complex issue for decades. Ensuring employees are paid similarly for comparable work is so important in today's workforce. With so many variables affecting compensation, employers must be thorough and diligent in developing a consistent pay structure.

Every CEO I have spoken with over the last 12 months is in the middle of an unprecedented "war for talent." Not only do I think it appropriate that you bring to your company's HR department any observations you have that might impact the company's ability to find and keep the best talent, but I believe those observations will be welcomed. If you approach this conversation from the perspective of wanting to ensure your company maintains a competitive advantage from a talent perspective—as opposed to suggesting the company is knowingly not paying fairly—I think your feedback will be well-received and valued. Just to be clear, though, it is illegal to pay employees differently based on their protected status, such as gender or race. So if you believe there are glaring inequities among employees of certain demographic groups, you should address this one head-on with the HR team.

Now I want to ensure I provide you a bit of a primer on pay before you raise the issue. Employees with similar jobs do not necessarily receive similar pay. When setting salary, employers weigh external factors, such as the local job market, and consider internal equity—meaning how much other employees are paid within a given range. Employers also consider the individual's education and relevant work experience, as well as any professional credentials they may hold. And let's not forget, during an employee's tenure, they'll likely receive merit-based pay increases or cost-of-living adjustments. This can create a significant variance over time. As I hope you see, with so many factors affecting employee pay, discrepancies will no doubt exist. But when compensation is managed equitably, those differences should be justifiable.

Good luck in your conversation!

Since I've returned to the office on a regular basis, I sit near a co-worker who coughs frequently. I believe that they are vaccinated against COVID-19, but I am wondering if there is a nice way to ask my co-worker to wear their mask or perhaps stay home until the cough subsides?—Lisa

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: COVID-19 has heightened our awareness around illness and symptoms. However, singling out an individual to stay home or wear a mask because they are coughing may not be the best approach. Remember, coughing doesn't necessarily equate to being contagious. Some people have coughs related to allergies or a chronic cough due to lung issues. Mentioning something could backfire, no matter how nicely you state it.

I need to give you some caution here: Mask requirements evoke strong opinions—both for and against. Your co-worker could have a different viewpoint than you and see your request as a personal intrusion. They could sincerely believe that you have no right to ask them to stay home from work or that wearing a mask is unnecessary. In a reversal, your co-worker may even suggest you stay home should you have a concern.

Instead, focus on what you can control. Continue to wear your own mask and practice social distancing and frequent hand-washing. And if you continue to feel like your co-worker is not following the company's rules or general health guidance, speak with HR about your concerns. They, in turn, will likely speak with your co-worker. Since these conversations will touch on your co-worker's personal medical information, it's best to allow management or HR handle them for the sake of privacy and confidentiality.

You may also want to speak to your manager or HR about ways in which you can feel more comfortable and safer in your workspace. I hope you find a solution to keep your workplace both safe and productive.


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