Rhode Island Enacts Stringent New Pay Equity Law

Author: Emily Scace, XpertHR Legal Editor

Rhode Island has become the latest state to enact a stringent pay equity law. The new law, which takes effect January 1, 2023, and applies to all employers in the state, broadens pay discrimination protections, bans salary history inquiries and requires pay range disclosure.

While the state had a preexisting law banning sex-based pay discrimination, the new law goes further, prohibiting pay discrimination based on:

  • Race,
  • Color,
  • Religion,
  • Sex,
  • Sexual orientation,
  • Gender identity or expression,
  • Disability,
  • Age (40 or older), or
  • National origin.

Employees performing comparable work must be paid equally unless the employer can justify a wage differential based on seniority, merit, job-related education or training, or another reasonable non-discriminatory factor.

Comparable work is defined as work requiring substantially similar skill, effort and responsibility and performed under similar working conditions.

The law also prevents employers from inquiring about or relying on an applicant's salary history to make hiring decisions or pay determinations. However, after making an initial employment offer, an employer may rely on an employee's voluntarily provided salary history to support a compensation level higher than the initial offer, provided that an unlawful pay differential does not result.

Finally, the law requires employers to provide applicants with the wage range for a position upon request. This information must be provided to the applicant before discussing the applicant's specific compensation.

Pay range information must also be provided to an employee:

  • At the time of hire;
  • When an employee moves into a new position; and
  • At an employee's request during the course of employment.

Administrative penalties for violations of the law may reach $1,000 for a first violation and up to $5,000 for an employer with two or more previous violations. However, no penalties will be assessed until 2025. The law also allows a private right of action, with potential remedies including back pay, compensatory damages and attorney fees.

Similar pay equity laws have recently been enacted in Nevada, Connecticut and Colorado.