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Worker who earned a master’s degree says she wants a raise: Must we give it?

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in Human Resources

Q. We have an employee who just earned a master’s degree. She wants a raise. Is there any legal requirement that we pay someone with an advanced degree more than other employees? — B.L., North Carolina

A. No. There is no legal obligation to give the employee a raise based on an advanced degree. The employee’s salary is entirely discretionary as long as the salary level does not discriminate against a member of a protected class.

For example, you can’t agree to pay certain employees with master’s degrees more and then refuse to do so for another employee, based on that person’s membership in a protected class.

On the other hand, you could distinguish between the types of master’s degrees that earn a higher salary, i.e., degrees that are job-related. While a master’s degree in engineering may net a higher salary for an engineer, an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) would not.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. One may exist in a union environment if the collective-bargaining agreement includes pay increases for those who earn advanced degrees. In that case, follow the union contract.

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