Contributed by Richard Cherpak
The issue over whether a potential employer’s interview questions regarding an applicant’s previous salary should be banned has sparked an intriguing debate that will impact the legal and business landscape. These laws will not just impact pay equity, but will also effect the number of claims for gender discrimination, age discrimination, and discrimination based on race or national origin.
Massachusetts, Philadelphia and New York City have all recently passed laws prohibiting employers from asking questions regarding job applicant’s current or previous salary. The ban is expected to come into effect in Massachusetts in the summer of 2018. The statutes are being implemented to encourage equal pay by making employers configure salary numbers based on job requirements and market salary rates for the position being hired instead of the applicant’s past or current salary. Back in early April, the New York City Council approved New York City public advocate Letitia Jame’s bill that prohibits private and public employers from asking job applicants about their past and current salary during the interview process. The bill, which was signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio back on May 4, also prohibits employers from factoring in an applicant’s previous and current salaries when determining what salary they are going to offer. Legislation of this nature has been met with much controversy in Philadelphia. Earlier this month, the city of Philadelphia announced that it would wait to enforce the legislation until a federal judge decided on a petition to block the legislation from the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia.
Significantly for employers, in New York City, there are going to be severe penalties for violating the ban. If the city feels that the employer violated the ban in a malicious and willful manner, she or he may be held liable in fines of up to $250,000.
Although the penalties for violating the ban are severe, there are a few exceptions to the law. One such exception allows for applicants and potential employees to use their own discretion in deciding whether or not to share their salary history. Accordingly, once employers receive this information from the applicant voluntarily, they may lawfully take it into consideration when offering a salary number.
The potential benefits of implementing such a ban include that it may create more transparency between employers, employees and prospective employees when negotiating offers and raises, which in turn, may ease any tensions over lack of compensation that an employee may feel. By forcing employers to take more of an objective market-based approach when they are deciding what salary figure they are going to offer to an applicant, it becomes less likely that an applicant will claim unequal pay, or gender or racial discrimination. Using a market based approach allows employers to look at the standard market rate for what an employee of a similar position and skill level at another company makes while still providing the employer with some discretion what actual salary their prospective employee should earn based on their own individual skill set and experience.
Although there is a strong argument for implementing this law, there is also a compelling argument against it. One argument currently being made by the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia, which is representing around 600,000 businesses, is that implementing such a ban would violate free speech rights of employers and make it more difficult for companies to recruit top talent. The lawsuit in Philadelphia says that employers’ use of wage history information is a valuable tool in assessing whether they can or cannot afford to hire a particular candidate. They further contend that it is used to help businesses figure out an appropriate salary for a particular job. Another potential downfall of implementing such a ban is that it could expose businesses to major lawsuits opening the flood gates for a overwhelming stream of litigation. Say for example that a company leaves a question on their application regarding salary information, this could lead an applicant to file suit against the company. Additionally, there may be confusion and debate over the interpretation of a salary based question on an application because a question that the employer has regarding one’s salary expectations may be misconstrued by a potential employee or applicant to be a question regarding one’s salary history.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, implementation of legislation of this nature is likely to expand across the country and continue as this year alone, 21 other states and Washington D.C. have proposed laws that would forbid questions regarding salary history. These states include: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington.