Job Applicant Salary History

Salary History: Can You Ask?

Job Applicant Salary HistoryWhat about a job applicant's salary history?

Labor Day is the time to celebrate the American worker. One of the issues that has come to the forefront in recent years is the matter of a job applicant’s salary history. There has been a growing number of states barring employers from inquiring about past salary history. But not all states are on board. Be sure to understand what you can and cannot ask a job applicant about his or her salary history.

States barring inquiries

Proponents of a ban on questions related to salary history argue that the questions discriminate primarily against women who’ve taken time off to raise their children; the questions perpetuate gender inequality in pay. Proponents further argue that employees should be paid according to the work performed (the duties, skills required, etc.) and not according to previous pay scales.

Starting in 2016, Massachusetts became the first state to prohibit questions about current or past salary and/or benefits. The ban extends to questions of job applicants, their current or former employers, agent of the applicant (e.g., an employment agency), and even a search of public information. Now, the following states have similar bans for employers in the private sector:

  • Alabama (effective September 1, 2019)
  • California
  • Colorado (effective January 1, 2021)
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois (effective September 29, 2019)
  • Maine (effective September 17, 2019)
  • New Jersey (effective January 1, 2020)
  • New York (effective January 6, 2020)
  • Oregon
  • Vermont
  • Washington

Besides these states, there are 19 localities that ban questions on salary history.

States barring bans on inquiries

Not all states prohibit employers from asking a job applicant about salary history. Michigan and Wisconsin permit employers to ask what they want to know when it comes to a job applicant’s prior salary history.

What to do

Determine whether you have a ban on salary questions in your locality. If such a ban is in place, be sure to eliminate the question(s) from any job application form and educate employees conducting interviews to not broach the subject of salary history in any way with a job applicant.

Note that job applicants are not barred from voluntarily disclosing their salary history or raising the subject with an interviewer, which is something that an applicant may do to elicit information about what the new job pays.

If you have questions, consult an employment law attorney.


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