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What Is Pay Transparency and What Are the Benefits?

Individuals discussing job posting with pay transparency

Today's workforce is more mobile than ever, and employers must work harder to retain and develop loyal team members. A strong focus on pay transparency can give employers the edge they need to attract and retain talent.

Many employees are focused on pay gaps and pay transparency more than ever before. To remain competitive in today's hiring landscape, employers may choose to foster open dialogue around the topic of pay transparency and help employees understand how the company’s compensation plans apply to them.

Learn more about how to develop pay transparency within your organization:

What Is Pay Transparency?

Pay transparency is the practice of openly and proactively sharing information on organizational compensation practices, including pay rates for specific positions, pay increases, bonuses or commission structures, benefits, retirement plans, or any other specifics about pay. This information may be shared voluntarily on a company's website, in job listings, or upon request, although pay transparency may be required under certain circumstances in specific jurisdictions.

Pay transparency isn't necessarily an all-or-nothing approach, and companies may have different degrees of transparency to which they feel comfortable sharing publicly. Companies may choose to share pay ranges or general guidelines for pay based on position, seniority, length of service, and other factors. With full transparency, companies may share the specific pay rates for every employee in the organization. While there are certainly valid reasons for a company to keep individual pay figures private, more progressive organizations are moving toward full transparency as a show of good faith to employees looking for fair and equitable pay.

The Rise of Pay Transparency Laws

Equal pay laws exist in nearly every state, but laws that require companies to provide pay transparency are still a new trend. However, increased demand by employees and a continued push toward pay equity across the board are leading toward increased support for disclosure of at least some pay information.

At the federal level, the National Labor Relations Act protects employee discussions of wages preventing employers from establishing a policy to prohibit employees from discussing working conditions including pay, with other employees.

Several states require private employers to provide pay ranges for a position to employees or applicants under certain conditions. For example, some employers in Colorado must include the wage rate or range for the role in the job posting. It is currently one of 20 U.S. states that have some pay transparency legislation in place for employees.

To ensure your business complies with all applicable legislation concerning wages, start by reviewing the laws for each state in which you operate. Many of these laws also prohibit employers from asking employees about previous pay history, as these questions may lead to unfairly low pay. To avoid accidentally violating these provisions, it can be helpful to remove these types of questions from any interview guides or standard practices.

How Employee Compensation and Pay Transparency Can Benefit Your Business

Being transparent about how your company pays employees can help you in more ways than complying with applicable state and federal laws. Once your transparency plan is in place, it can aid in your recruiting and retention efforts, help your HR team avoid surprises concerning pay, and improve your company culture. The efforts required to develop additional pay transparency can ultimately lead to operational efficiencies that keep your employees happier and help improve your bottom line.

Weed Out Candidates Looking for Pay Requirements Out of Budget

The recruiting and talent acquisition process can be costly for any business, and the best companies recognize that high turnover and constant recruiting lead to additional expenses on several levels. Time, money, and energy invested in recruiting a candidate who ultimately decides to take their skills elsewhere is a drain on the company's bottom line. To avoid this mismatch from the start, organizations can set clear expectations from the beginning. This creates a win-win scenario where companies don't waste their time on candidates who will never accept an offer within the budget, and candidates can decide to go through the hiring process more willingly knowing that the potential pay, if offered the position, will be financially in line with their expectations. Transparency in job ads and early candidate screenings can help ensure a successful interview process.

No Surprises for Your HR Team

Even if your company is not fully on the pay transparency bandwagon, your competitors may already be disclosing this valuable information to job candidates. Potential new hires can research information on competitive pay and company culture in minutes, allowing them to come armed with a plethora of market data and negotiating power. Your HR team should stay informed of the competitive landscape to avoid being blindsided in interviews; no one wants to discover they're the lowest-paying business in the industry by losing out on a well-informed, stellar candidate.

Open the Door to Improved Company Culture

Embracing transparency can provide an important opportunity for companies to ensure that their overall compensation policies are fair and equitable, which can lead to improved company culture. By gathering the pay data needed to improve your company's transparency, you can compare both internal and external pay rates to ensure that pay is equitable across gender, race, ethnicity, positions, and locations.

Providing this additional transparency can also help you appeal to tech-savvy workers who demand access to information and feel empowered when it is readily available. This proactive transparency can help you build trust with employees across generational, gender, and racial lines to foster a sense of openness and equality. By demonstrating that your organization can gracefully navigate a sensitive topic like compensation, your employees may serve as advocates for a positive company culture that helps you attract other qualified employees.

Possible Challenges With Pay Transparency

Even if top management means well by sharing company pay information, there can be challenges if this additional transparency is not communicated well from the beginning. Company leaders should be thoughtful about how much information to disclose, how it might be received by employees, and what information should preface a pay reveal.

Employees could feel slighted if your organization is still working to identify and eliminate pay gaps, as additional pay transparency could make those gaps even more obvious. Even if pay gaps aren't an issue, pay transparency can be confusing or frustrating to employees if there is no clear policy in place for how pay rates are determined. Without a clear pay policy, employees may arbitrarily assume one on their own that could inaccurately imply favoritism to certain work groups or employee types. To avoid these potential challenges, be sure to review your policy with legal counsel and consider outlining the company's pay policy in company documentation such as an employee handbook – and keeping it updated. Be sure managers are complying with the policy and look to communicate pay-related decisions sensitively and thoughtfully.

Start Utilizing Pay Transparency Today

While there are some potential challenges to increasing pay transparency within your organization, the benefits of increased trust among your employees and improved company culture can certainly make it worth the effort to overcome such challenges. Pay transparency is also an increasingly useful hiring and retention tool. Providing clear and transparent pay policies may be a requirement in your jurisdiction, but it can also be an effective way to demonstrate your commitment to fair and equitable pay across your organization.

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* This content is for educational purposes only, is not intended to provide specific legal advice, and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice of a qualified attorney or other professional. The information may not reflect the most current legal developments, may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date.

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