A Question Too Far? Salary History Bans Continue to Gain Momentum

Hiring someone new at your dance store or studio? More and more states and cities are banning any questions about a candidate’s past salary during job interviews.

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A wave of new laws prohibiting employers from asking job candidates about their salary history has been passed in the last few years. Massachusetts was the first state to legislate a salary history ban, in 2016; the latest are New Jersey and New York, bringing the total number of states with bans to 17. Twenty local governments have also passed bans. (To see if your business is affected, consult this running list of states and cities with salary history bans.)

What’s Behind the Salary History Bans

Employment experts expect the trend to continue because, with little expectation of federal action to address persistent pay inequities, states and cities are stepping up. The intent is to end a cycle of pay discrimination: Asking about salary history can disadvantage women and minorities, since they may start out being paid less and then fall further and further behind as each job is based on previous pay.

What You Need to Know When You’re Hiring

If the law applies to your business, check that any application forms (paper and online) don’t include a question about salary history. Then make sure that anyone who interviews candidates is trained about your state’s law. Most of the laws prohibit asking about pay, commissions or benefits. But each jurisdiction’s rules may differ slightly. According to HR Dive, some also “prohibit employers from relying on an applicant’s pay history to set compensation [even] if discovered or volunteered; others prohibit an employer from taking disciplinary action against employees who discuss pay with co-workers.” 

So How Can You Set the Right Pay, Then?

Of course, determining the going rate for a job is important for your business, so that you can be a competitive employer in your labor market. There are still ways to do that, even without being able to ask candidates directly about compensation. Salary databases on websites like Glassdoor and PayScale let you research going rates for jobs in various companies, regions and industries. And you can reach out to other local businesses and recruiters to share information. With this research in hand, you can then calculate how the position fits into your overall payroll budget. Another option: Promote from within—train a talented salesperson at your store to become assistant manager, say, or groom a receptionist at your studio to become studio manager. That way, you know the person’s salary history and their worth to the company. The bonus: Your business becomes known as a workplace where people can begin to build a career, and you avoid the high costs of staff turnover.

Last updated January 9, 2020