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Last week California passed a law prohibiting all employers from asking job applicants about their salary history. The prohibition extends to both state and local governments, and it prohibits an employer from seeking salary information directly from an applicant as well as through a third party. The goal underlying this piece of legislation is to help close the gender wage gap, which is part of the overall push nationally towards equal-pay legislation.

This may come as a surprise, but California wasn’t the first on the scene with its salary history prohibition law. In the summer of 2016, Massachusetts passed the county’s first law prohibiting employers from asking job applicants for their current salary or their salary history. (Though the Massachusetts law doesn’t take effect until the summer of 2018.) Other cities and states- San Francisco, New York City, Philadelphia, Delaware, Puerto Rico, and Oregon- have adopted similar laws.

As is always the case, there is support for and opposition against the legislation. Proponents argue that using a worker’s prior history to set a new salary perpetuates the pay gap. As an example, when a woman starts out with a lower salary than her male counterparts, basing her future salary on that initial lower salary is antithetical to closing the gender pay gap. Opponents offer a variety of arguments, including that if an employer can’t legally ask about salary history, the employer might guess instead- and guess lower if that person is female. Additionally, other opponents argue that such prohibitions infringe on the First Amendment rights of businesses.

Time will tell whether this coastal trend will start to move inward across the states. While similar legislation may not be on the immediate horizon for states without salary history prohibitions, there’s strong chance such legislation will be proposed in the not too distant future.

Thompson Coe and myHRgenius Tip of the Week is not intended as a solicitation, does not constitute legal advice, and does not establish an attorney-client relationship.


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