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Salary Transparency Law in Rhode Island

Screenshot 2023 06 29 at 10.25.21 AMA new pay equity law is in effect for 2023, which makes several changes to the Rhode Island Equal Pay Law and places significant new burdens on both large and small businesses.

Rhode Island employers are now prohibited from requesting applicants’ salary histories before making an offer of employment. The new law also mandates wage transparency. Upon request, employers must provide applicants and existing employees with the wage range for the position. The “wage range” can mean a formal pay scale or compensation plan, but also includes “the actual range of wages for those currently holding equivalent positions.”

Rhode Island already prohibited wage differences based upon sex for employees who performed “equal work” or “work on the same operations.” The new pay equity expands the equal pay act to other protected categories. Employees cannot be paid “at a wage less than the rate paid to employees of another race, or color, or religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, age, or country of ancestral origin for comparable work.” The phrase “comparable work” instead of “equal work” expands employers’ potential liability. Minor differences in skill, effort or responsibility doesn’t prevent two jobs from being deemed ‘comparable’ unless reasonably explained by seniority, a merit system, geographic location, job-related training or experience, and shift differentials.

Through June 30, 2026, employers will have an affirmative defense to all liability for any alleged unlawful pay practices if they can show a) a good faith ‘self-evaluation” of pay practices within the past two years preceding a pay equity lawsuit was conducted; or b) they have eliminated the allegedly unlawful wage differentials revealed by the self-evaluation. Employees may be eligible to collect back pay, unpaid wages and damages. After June 30, 2026, employers who conduct a self-evaluation and self-correct will be protected from some types of damages.

The act gives employers a grace period for civil penalties that may be imposed by the RI Department of Labor and Training for violations of pay equity mandates, thus no penalties may be assessed through December 31, 2024. Civil penalties can range between $1,000 and $5,000. If you don’t ‘conspicuously’ post a notice of employee rights under the act, you could face a civil penalty of between $100 and $500.