To Help End the Pay Gap, Stop Asking New Hires for Salary Histories

October 14, 2016

As I approach my senior year of college, the anxiety surrounding the impending job search gets worse. I will customize my résumés and cover letters, fill out numerous job applications, and perfect my interview skills. But another part of the hiring process can affect job seekers — especially women and people of color — for the rest of their careers: requesting an applicant’s salary history during the hiring process. It’s a big deal that can severely lighten your pocketbook.

Imagine yourself in your late 20s, moving up in your field. You didn’t get paid that well at your last job, and you’re looking forward to a salary boost in your next position. Your new employer’s application asks for your salary history. This seems harmless, right? Wrong. This practice perpetuates the wage gap that many women and people of color face. This practice assumes that prior salaries were fairly established at your previous employers. If you faced a pay gap and lost wages at your last job, due to bias or discrimination, your new employer is now continuing the cycle. Salary history questions can introduce bias and discrimination into the recruitment process of a company that may be sincerely attempting to avoid it.

Thankfully, recent efforts at the state level are working to end this misleading practice, a welcome step in ending the pay gap. Earlier this year, Massachusetts paved the way when Governor Charlie Baker (R) signed a landmark bipartisan pay equity bill, which prohibits employers from requiring salary history information before receiving a formal job offer. It is often customary for employers to ask for salary history and use that information to set wages in a new position. But when we look closer, how is prior pay related to a worker’s ability to perform a new job? Shouldn’t employees be compensated for what their skills are worth to the new company and not be based on a different job from their past? Women and people of color have likely been earning less than their counterparts already, and pegging new wages to old wages maintains the discriminatory practice. Put simply, use of salary history guarantees that bias follows workers wherever they go, whatever their profession, and no matter their skills.

Other states have followed suit in diminishing this harmful practice. Thanks to the work of AAUW of California members and other partner organizations, Governor Jerry Brown (D) signed into law a bill saying that salary history can’t be the only reason to point to if a wage discrepancy exists. Legislators in Maryland, Delaware, Utah, and my home state of Nebraska also passed equal pay bills in 2016. Red, blue, and purple states are realizing that the pay gap is real and are taking steps to close it.

The progress of Congress has been slower. The Paycheck Fairness Act has remained in gridlock for years. However, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) took a note from the states and introduced the Pay Equity for All Act, along with Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Jerry Nadler (D-NY), and Jackie Speier (D-CA). The bill aims to prohibit employers from asking job candidates for their salary history before a job or salary offer is made. Congress should pay attention to those state bills and work together to end discrimination.

Employers should pay what the position is worth to their organization and not base compensation on a worker’s worth in a different job with a different company. If a woman starts her career with a pay gap, it’s likely to follow her throughout her life and negatively affect her retirement. These state and federal efforts are exemplary first steps to removing obstacles in the face of equal pay.

This blog post was adapted by Aditi Dinakar, AAUW public policy intern, from an original Huffington Post blog written by Lisa Maatz, AAUW vice president of government relations and advocacy, entitled “Want to Take a Major Chunk Out of the Pay Gap? Stop Asking New Hires for Salary Histories.”


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