Massachusetts Bans Companies from Previous Salary Inquiries; Measure Expected to Significantly Help Women

One of the dreaded parts of seeking a new job is the inevitable request from potential employers for past salary information.  In nearly all cases, the job searcher will want to make more money at the new job, especially if they have been the victim of gender pay disparity at their former job.

When past salary information is requested, the natural assumption by the job seeker is that the potential employer will use this information against the job seeker, perhaps by making an offer that is just a little better than the past position, but which may not reflect current market conditions (or even the conditions at the new company).  There is also the assumption that any salary that HR can save will make them look better in the eyes of management (and perhaps also result in a nice year-end bonus for the HR person).

These salary inquiry tactics likely have a disproportionately adverse impact on women, who already earn, on average, significantly less than their male counterparts.  The New Republic described this salary information practice as follows:

Since women and minorities tend to earn comparatively lower pay, when employers make offers based on past salary, any discrimination or unfair wage depression gets passed on like an infection.

We agree.

We are encouraged to see Massachusetts ban past salary inquiries, and hope that the similar proposals being introduced for New York City and for the nation will also succeed.

Past Salary Inquiries Have No Legitimate Purpose Other Than to Keep Wages Down 

There is no reasonable basis for a hiring company to ever know about the past wages of a potential new employee.  The hiring company only needs to know the wage structure that they have in place for the particular position, and then to take into consideration the experience and perceived potential of the applicant in making a final decision.

Clearly job applicants who have significant experience and a proven track record of success should be paid at the top end of the wage band for the position, while those with little or no experience might be paid more at the lower end.  But to pay a woman at the lower end of the scale simply because she’s been victim of past sex-based pay discrimination at her previous job is simply wrong and unfair, and more importantly, it perpetuates sex discrimination in the form of unequal pay for equal work for women.

We support all efforts to ban past wage and salary inquiries in the hiring process.  In the interim, we support women and others who have felt the harms and losses of not earning what they’re worth through illegal gender pay disparity. If you have been the victim of such a practice, please call us to learn about your rights, and to brainstorm with us about your particular workplace challenge.