Massachusetts Bans Salary History Question in Job Interviews

Earlier this week, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill requiring equal pay for men and women performing comparable work. As a provision of that law, which will take effect July 1, 2018, Massachusetts employers will be forbidden to ask prospective employees for their salary history during the job interview process.

Why does this matter? Some experts believe that the salary history question, which ties workers’ compensation to previous rates of pay at other companies, is inherently biased against women.

salary history
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“Many employers require applicants to give them a salary history at the outset or during the initial steps of the hiring process, usually to determine how much they should be paid and whether the employer can afford their salary,” writes Bryce Covert at ThinkProgress. “But this disadvantages women, who, thanks to a variety of factors that can include outright discrimination, make less than men on average. Women make less than men in their first jobs even when education and field are taken into consideration, and they are also penalized in salary negotiations, while men get an advantage. If the next employer bases a salary on the previous one a woman was earning, that discrimination will only be furthered.”

Salary History Fuels the Gender Pay Gap

CBS Boston reports that women in Massachusetts currently make 82 cents for every dollar a man earns, for comparable work. PayScale’s report, Inside the Gender Pay Gap, shows that the controlled pay gap nationwide is 97 cents on the dollar (meaning that when women and men work in similar jobs and have similar experience, education, etc., women make 97 cents for every dollar a man earns).


However, women are less likely to hold leadership roles than men, and are paid less and promoted less often when they do. They’re also less likely to work in high-paying occupations.

Nixing the salary history question could help close these gaps, by helping women to negotiate salary based on the job title in question, not their salary history. Without an entrenched pay deficit following them throughout their career, women would stand a much better chance of getting paid what they deserve for each new role. Over the course of a lifetime, that could add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Legislation like this could help close the uncontrolled pay gap as well; paid equally for comparable work, women might be less likely to opt out of the workforce for extended periods of time to care for family.

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