Asking for Salary History Could Soon Be Illegal in All 50 States

Last month, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill requiring equal pay for equal work. The bill also banned employers in the Commonwealth from asking prospective hires for their salary history, making Massachusetts the first state in the nation to enact such a law—but perhaps not the last. While California and New York State consider similar legislation, a new bill would make asking for salary history illegal nationwide.

salary history
Image Credit: Joshua Ness/Unsplash

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (Dem.-DC) will soon introduce a bill to prohibit employers from asking job candidates for their salary history during the job interview or salary negotiation process. The bill will be cosponsored by Representatives Rosa DeLauro (Dem.-CT) and Jerrold Nadler (Dem.-NY).

“Women and minorities often face discrimination in the job application process and in salary negotiations,” said Norton in a news release. “Many carry lower salaries for their entire careers simply because of wages at previous jobs that were set unfairly. Our bill will require employers to offer salaries to prospective employees based on merit, not gender, race, or ethnicity.”

How Salary History Maintains the Gender Pay Gap

“It was not instinctive to me to understand that asking an applicant for prior history could have a lifelong discriminatory affect,” Norton told ThinkProgress. But: “All you need to do is think five seconds about it and you understand it.”

A worker’s salary history follows her from job to job. Low pay at an early job can affect salary at a later one, because hiring managers often base their offer on previous pay. Even candidates who negotiate and advocate strongly for themselves at the salary phase can wind up with a lower offer than someone who happened to earn more at an earlier position. In practice, workers who get lower offers are often women.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not because women don’t ask. Women are nearly as likely to negotiate salary as men (42 percent of women vs. 44 percent of men, according to PayScale’s Salary Negotiation Guide), but slightly less likely to get the bump in pay they ask for (43 percent of women vs. 46 percent of men). They also pay a higher social penalty when they attempt to negotiate. Making salary history part of the job interview process means that tomorrow’s salary depends on yesterday’s wages, which makes it harder for female candidates to get paid what they deserve.

“If this disparity can begin from the moment you go to your first job, and it follows you throughout your career, it will never be rectified and the wage gap itself will never be rectified,” said Norton. “It is a hidden form of discrimination that many employers may think is reasonable to ask and may not understand the discriminatory effect.”

Hidden discrimination is one reason why even women with the same jobs and experience earn less than men:


Ninety-seven cents on the dollar is a lot better than the 79-cent figure we sometimes hear, but it’s still not equal pay for equal work. Perhaps Congresswoman Norton, who has a history of fighting to close the gender pay gap as the first female chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, can help close the gap for good.

Are you being paid what you deserve? Take PayScale’s Salary Survey and generate a free salary report that gives you an appropriate range for your skills and experience.

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