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Language Pay Differential Frequently Asked Questions

Get answers to questions about the City's Language Pay Differential and whether you qualify. Latest additions are at the top of each section.
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Why institute a Language Pay Differential? 

  • According to most recent data from the U.S. Census, 19.4% (well over 117,000 people 5 yrs. and over) of Portland's population speaks a language other than English at home, and 8.1% (well over 49,000 people 5 yrs. and over) of the city's population speak English less than “very well.” 

  • Language is a major barrier for the public in accessing basic City benefits/services and exercising important rights. This has been abundantly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic as immigrant and refugee community members expressed difficulty in accessing vital information in the language they could understand. One of the goals of instituting the language pay differential policy is to increase equitable access to government for linguistically and culturally diverse community members served by the City of Portland. As we strive to be a more inclusive, multicultural institution serving the public equitably, increasing the number of different languages spoken by City staff to serve the public, demonstrates a proactive effort to comply with institutional civil rights obligations to reduce institutional language barriers and increase access to government programs, services, activities, and information. 

  • Increasing the number of staff who can connect with the public whose primary language is not English and thus experience institutional language barriers and paying them for the skills they bring to the workforce also demonstrates commitment to compliance with Title VI national origin non-discrimination obligations. 

  • Many local governments such as Multnomah County, Washington County, the City of Hillsboro and the City of Gresham, already offer language pay differential. This policy supports the City of Portland’s adopted commitment to be an “Employer of Choice” in attracting, developing and retaining a diverse, culturally competent, and fully engaged workforce. 

  • A language-based phone survey conducted as part of the City of Portland’s development of a new 311 Program found that 66% of respondents, Portland residents who primarily spoke Spanish, Vietnamese, and Chinese, had never contacted the City and cited language barriers as the top reason. 

  • Multilingual City of Portland employees are currently providing language assistance to the public without being compensated for it. This is a workplace equity issue that needs to be rectified. As an employer of choice, we must show we value the level of competency and social capital multilingual employees bring to the City of Portland. 

What is the language pay differential benefit? 

Multilingual City of Portland employees who qualify for the benefit will receive an additional $1.00 per hour to their base wage. The benefit is only paid on hours worked, it does not apply to vacation time, sick time, and is suspended while employees are on leave. 

How do I qualify for the language pay differential benefit? 

There are three pathways for designating a position that benefits from a language skill and is eligible for the language pay differential: 

  1. (Note: For designated job classifications.) Pathway One is for employees whose City job classifications are public facing, customer service, or community engagement oriented and are included on the Language Pay Differential Job Classification Eligibility List. Employees whose job classification is on the Language Pay Differential Job Classification Eligibility List and whose language is listed on the City/County combined languages list can take the verbal language proficiency test. 

  1. Pathway Two allows managers/supervisors to designate additional and existing positions they have identified as benefitting from a language skill based on community need; or create new positions with a language skill designation (since newly designated, they may not be listed on the Language Pay Differential Job Classifications List). Pathway Two was created based on data collected from city staff who provide this level of service to the public using their language skill and represent a wide range of job types. Even if an employee’s position is not included on Pathway One’s Language Pay Differential Job Classifications Eligibility List, Pathway Two is still available. 

  1. If an employee is not deemed eligible for the language pay differential through Pathways One or Two, but they believe that their language skill removes barriers for the community and brings value to the institution, they can appeal through Pathway Three. You must have already submitted a Pathway One or Two request and have gotten your request denied in order to submit a Pathway Three request. 

What’s the process for completing each pathway? 

A detailed process document is available at Language Pay Differential Processes

What are the testing requirements? 

  • Employees must demonstrate a professional working spoken proficiency in the specified language(s) as verified by a proficiency test. 

  • At their three-year anniversary with the language pay differential benefit, employees who wish to retain their pay differential must retest and pass to continue receiving the benefit. 

  • All employees, including those who are retesting to continue their benefit, who fail their test are encouraged to retest after 6 months or upon completion of a training program (documentation of training completion required), whichever comes first. 

  • If the employee fails more than twice, they are responsible for paying for future costs of tests out of their own pocket and taking the test on their own personal time. 

Will I ever have to take the test again? 

The premium is effective for a period not to exceed three years. To retain the pay differential, employees must retest and pass a language proficiency test every three years. 

Are both represented and non-represented employees eligible? 

Yes, most union represented employees are eligible. Qualifying non-represented employees are eligible. 

What job classifications are eligible for the language pay differential? 

See the table below for the Language Pay Differential Job Classification Eligibility List (as of Nov. 17, 2021). 

Classification TitleRepresentation
Analyst Series – Includes I, II, III Non-Rep 
Coordinator Series – Includes I, II, III, and IV Non-Rep 
Commissioners Staff Classifications (CSR, Senior CSR, CASS, COS, DCOS)  Non-Rep 
311 Customer Service Operator  DCTU 
Customer Account Specialist  DCTU 
Development Services Trainee PTE17 
Development Services Technician I PTE17 
Development Services Technician II PTE17 
Emergency Communications Call Taker  PPA-BOEC 
Emergency Communications Fire Dispatcher PPA-BOEC 
Emergency Communications Police Dispatcher PPA-BOEC 
Emergency Communications Dispatcher, Sr. PPA-BOEC 
Housing Community Outreach & Information Rep DCTU 
Firefighter Classifications PFFA, Non-Rep 
Portland Street Response Classifications PFFA, Non-Rep 
Housing Loan Coordinator  DCTU 
Seasonal Park Ranger  PCL 
Park Ranger  PCL 
Peer Support Specialist  Non-Rep 
Sworn Police Officer Classifications   Portland Police Association, PPCOA, Non-Rep 
Public Safety Support Specialist  Portland Police Association 
Recreation Coordinator  Recreation (Local 483) 
Recreation Leader Recreation (Local 483) 

What languages qualify for this benefit? 

Spanish, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Russian, Ukrainian, Somali, French (West African), Swahili, Arabic, Romanian, Nepali, Chuukese, Lao, Tagalog, Cambodian, Japanese, Korean, Karen, Marshallese, Thai, Amharic, Burmese, Tigrinya, Farsi. (25 languages total)

Additionally, we've added: American Sign Language (ASL), Bosnian, Croatian, Haitian Creole, Hindi, Indonesian, Serbian, Zomi.

What if I'm unable to submit my request online? Is there a physical form? 

Yes, you can download the form below:

Instructions on where to submit the form are in the document. 

I have more questions. Who do I ask? 

Please refer questions to, your bureau’s assigned Human Resources Business Partner (HRBP), or call BHR’s main line at 503-823-3572. You can also talk to your manager/supervisor.


Who decides what is “community-facing” enough to warrant getting the pay differential for a job class? What are the criteria for the decision?  

At this time, classifications that remove barriers for the community are identified in the Language Pay Differential Job Classification Eligibility List (above). Additional criteria may be added following discussions with our labor partners.

How do employees get the pay differential? 

The timekeeper will enter a switch called SLNG on the employee’s SAP record. It is important that the timekeeper has the start and end dates of the switch so the employee can get paid timely and to prevent overpayment. 

How do we determine the start date of the pay differential? 

If the employee is already in the position in which they are utilizing the language for which they passed the test, the start date would be the first day of work after they passed the exam. If the employee passed the test, but they will not be going into the position/role in which they will utilize the language until a future date, then it will be the first day they will begin that new role.

It is important that timekeepers are informed of the exact date so they can enter the SLNG switch onto the employee’s record with the accurate start date.

How do we determine the end date of the pay differential? 

If the employee is remaining indefinitely in the position in which they will be utilizing the language in which they passed the test, then the end date will be three years after the test was passed. The employee will need to retest before that three-year mark if they do not want to interrupt their language pay differential. 

If the employee’s role or position has changed in which they will no longer utilize the language, the end date will be the last day in which they were in the role in which the language was used. 

Timekeepers need to be informed immediately about the end date of an employee’s language pay differential to prevent overpayments. Timekeepers will need to delimit the SLNG switch on the employee’s SAP record. 

What does the employee get paid if they have the language pay differential switch tuned on? 

A flat rate of $1.00 will be paid only on all hours worked including overtime if the employee is eligible for overtime. The pay differential is only paid on hours worked, it does not apply to vacation time, sick time, or any other absence code. 

If an employee goes home sick for part of the day, will they only claim the differential for the hours they worked? 

If the employee has sick time or any other paid/unpaid absence code on their timesheet, the language pay differential will not pay on those hours. It will only pay on hours worked. 

Who is paying for the tests?  

Each bureau pays for its own tests. 

If someone promotes from a language differential class (and receiving the differential) to another language differential class but the use of their other language is not needed in the new class, does their differential end?  

The differential should end. The timekeeper must be informed immediately so they can delimit the switch and prevent an overpayment. 

What if the language is needed in their new class?

Then the employee and/or their new manager should email BHRBusinessServices@portlandore… for next steps.

Who is the custodian of this policy and who is responsible for policy updates (and subsequent communications)?  Who tracks the proficiency re-validation tests?  What role, if any, does BHR have in this process?  

The Office of Equity and Human Rights along with the Bureau of Human Resources are the custodians. 

The testing process is managed by BHR. The bureaus will need to resubmit a test request before the expiration date for the required testing and premium continuation.   

Will the pay differential be automatically added to an employee’s base salary or will a timekeeper be required to enter a code for hours worked each pay period?  

When the timekeeper is informed about the start and end dates of the pay differential, they will enter a switch on SAP on the employee’s record. No timesheet entry is required by the employee as long as the switch is activated by the timekeeper.  

Is retroactivity allowed?  For example, next month an employee (in a qualifying classification) uses their other language to do their work but they have not passed the proficiency test.  If they subsequently are approved to take that test and they pass, can they go back and claim the hours when they used their other language?  

The premium is not retroactive to a date prior to passing the exam. The earliest effective date is the workday after the exam has been passed. 

How are results "recorded by Human Resources in the employee’s personnel file"?  

A separate database is being maintained within BHR to track and manage the Certification documentation and process.

The guidance document says, "the pay differential will be activated in SAP."  Who is responsible for this activation?  

The timekeeper activates the premium after the notification from the manager about the start and end dates of the language pay differential.

If someone works out of class for a period of time and the class they're working out in is designated to be eligible for the pay differential, can they take the proficiency test and receive the language differential?  Same question but for temp appointments. (The assumption being that as soon as the WOC or temp appointment ends, so does their pay differential. 

If an employee is working in a job classification as eligible for the language differential, they would potentially be eligible for the premium. If the employee passes the test, it is important that the timekeeper knows the start and end date of the premium so the switch can be entered in SAP. 

If someone is multilingual and they, for example, are asked to use 2 other languages as part of their job, is the differential still only $1/hour?  

The employee is only paid one premium at the flat rate of $1.00 for every hour worked. 

Are class specs going to be updated to reflect that the requisite classifications are designated as pay differential eligible? 

Class specifications will be updated in the future to reflect secondary language skills may be utilized or required for the job.