If you’re asking about salary history during job interviews, you should know that some cities and states are starting to ban employers from even broaching the subject with applicants. Even if you’re not in a “pay equality” jurisdiction yet, employers should consider whether asking about salary history is more trouble than it is worth.
Jurisdictions that are banning the past salary question are doing so ostensibly to counter gender-based pay discrimination that is said to follow a woman from her first job through the remainder of her career. Proponents point out that these inquiries into salary have an unintended consequence: once a job candidate starts out with a lower salary than her peers, she presumably carries this with her for the rest of her career, making it difficult to get back on an even playing field.
Of course, the problem with asking for salary history isn’t only a gender issue. There are many reasons why a person might be paid too little (or, dare we say, far too much) at a previous position. When recruiters and hiring managers get their hands on previous salary numbers, they may make assumptions about that candidate that simply aren’t true. Those assumptions could lead to poor hiring decisions.
Opponents to these laws argue that salary history is relevant for a host of non-discriminatory reasons, and that the laws constitute an unwarranted government action without any data establishing they will have an impact on gender pay inequities. Regardless, Oregon, Massachusetts, New York City, and Philadelphia have all enacted legislation that would bar employers from asking about a job applicant’s pay history, and several other cities and states are considering similar legislation. (Not surprisingly, this was not an issue that the Texas Legislature tackled during their 2017 session.)
Whether you’re in an area that requires it by law or not, you may want to consider the cost/benefit of eliminating the inquiry from the hiring process. Does the benefit of having a person’s past salary counteract the potential result: bringing a person in that is receiving less pay in relation to other, similarly-situated employees? That potential result is what can create a gender discrimination and equal pay issue down the road. At the very least, no matter where an employer is located, it is a best practice for employers to periodically review its workforce’s pay data to ensure similarly-situated employees do not have wide, unexplainable differences in pay.
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