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Degree is required, but can a raise hinge on it?

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in Compensation and Benefits,Human Resources

Q. A job description says “a bachelor’s degree or equivalent work experience” is required. An employee in that job has proven he can do everything the job description entails and then some. Is it legal to tell him the raise (within reason) cannot be justified to the board of directors be­­cause he doesn’t have a college degree? – Cyndi, Missouri

A. I understand you to be asking whether an employee who holds a position requiring a bachelor’s degree or “equivalent work experience” can be penalized for not possessing a college degree, despite good performance.

The answer is yes. In fact, an employer can pay, or choose not to pay, based on a number of different qualification criteria. If other people in the same job classification are paid more, it might be that these individuals have additional skills or can be trained to perform more sophisticated work because of that degree. If not, then holding a degree might not be so relevant. It may also be that you have simply reached the top of the range for what the employer will pay for the position.

In general, unless requiring a degree appears to be an ex­­­­cuse and that the employer pays women less than men, minorities less than whites, or otherwise discriminates against individuals in a protected class, it is unlikely that refusing to award a pay increase would be considered unlawful.

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