After Massachusetts became the first state to bar employers from inquiring about job candidates’ salary histories in an effort to help close the gender pay gap, Democrats in the US House of Representatives are introducing a bill that would do the same on the federal level. The bill, which Washington, DC representative Eleanor Holmes Norton and her cosponsors Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) plan to introduce in this session of Congress, would “prohibit employers from asking job applicants for their salary history before making a job or salary offer,” according to a statement from Norton’s office:
The bill seeks to eliminate the wage gap that women and people of color often encounter. Because many employers set wages based on an applicant’s previous salary, workers from historically disadvantaged groups often start out behind their white male counterparts in salary negotiations and never catch up. Even though many employers may not intend to discriminate on the basis of gender, race, or ethnicity, asking for prior salary information before offering an applicant a job can have a discriminatory effect in the workplace that begins or reinforces the wage gap.
The bill will have a very hard time getting passed in the current Congress, however. As Rebecca Shabad explains at CBS News, Democrats’ efforts to legislate equal pay have met with forceful opposition from conservatives and pro-business groups, and salary history bans are no exception:
Carrie Lukas, managing director of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, however, said she’s concerned that an outright prohibition could wind up hurting prospective employees.
“I’m concerned about it,” she told CBS. “I think telling employers they can’t ask that question, it’ll put some people at a disadvantage. Being willing to work for less is a selling point for some candidates and instead of having that option and [allowing an employee to say], ‘Let me get my foot in the door and get started at less than the other guy,’ [the employer is] going to say, ‘Okay, I’m going to take the guy with the most years of experience.’” She added, “Creating all of these regulations and preventing people from seeking information isn’t going to stop bad behavior necessarily.”
On the other hand, pushing back on Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell’s concerns that Massachusetts’ equal pay law could backfire, Bryce Covert argues at the New Republic that getting rid of salary negotiations may be more politically realistic than other policies to help women in the workplace:
It’s true that banning salary histories is not a silver bullet. As Rampell points out, employers may still lowball women and people of color even without a salary history to go on. Eliminating the gender wage gap is an enormous project, one that would require not just policies aimed at transparency, such as banning employers from telling workers they can’t discuss pay between themselves, and strict penalties to discourage unequal pay. It would also take a slew of proactive steps. …
It will also take measures that level the playing field for women at work who are still saddled with most of the labor at home. Paid family leave and affordable, consistent child care, for example, both boost women’s wages. These are all big and politically unlikely priorities, however. Banning salary histories is a much smaller, more quickly achievable ask.
In any case, there seems to be little chance of Norton’s legislation passing in this deeply divided Congress, so candidates in most states can expect to still have to answer for their salary history next year. Still, Martha C. White suggests at Money, candidates worried that this inquiry will disadvantage them can always try to dodge the question:
In the meantime, experts suggest that job-seekers can wiggle around the question by stating a range of what they’d like to be paid, or telling the hiring manager your total compensation, including benefits — as long as you’re clear that this isn’t just your salary.