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Philadelphia to be the first U.S. city to prohibit asking job candidates about salary history—is your city next?

Posted on: December 12th, 2016 | Category: Government Regulatory & Compliance Issues, HR DirectLink Service, HR Support & Project Work, Human Resources, Our Blog, Talent Management

salary history question in philadelphiaOn Friday, we issued a news alert on social media about how Philadelphia will soon be the first city to pass a ban on companies asking job candidates about their salary history. According to an article published on, City Council passed the legislation last Thursday, and Mayor Jim Kenney will sign the bill into law.

The law will make it illegal for employers to ask job applicants for their salary histories or to retaliate against prospective employees for failing to answer questions about what they previously earned, according to the article. Complaints filed within 300 days to the city’s Commission on Human Relations could lead to $2,000 fines for employers, and possibly damages, including the applicants’ attorneys’ fees.

This type of legislation is not just a Philly phenomenon. From the article:

Philadelphia officials got the idea from the state legislature in Massachusetts, which passed its own salary-history legislation this summer.


Similar bills have also been introduced to the state legislatures in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. New York’s City Council is also considering the measure, and Mayor Bill de Blasio last month signed an executive order banning the question on applications for jobs with city agencies.

National Law Review TX salary history

1.11.17 UPDATE: National Law Review covers the Texas legislation looking to ban wage history questions to job candidates.

Back in September, we reported about a bill that was introduced to Congress that is meant to combat pay inequality facing women and minorities. SHRM Online reported that the Pay Equity for All Act of 2016 (H.R. 6030) would allow the U.S. Department of Labor to assess huge fines against employers who violate the law by asking questions about an applicant’s salary history. Prospective and current employees would also be able to file private lawsuits against employers who violated this legislation, receiving up to $10,000 in damages, plus attorney fees.


12.19.16 UPDATE: New York Daily News covers the Pay Equity for All Act taking aim at salary history questions to job candidates.

That’s not chump change.

While we have yet to see how the next administration will handle this issue, we do know that H.R. 6030 mirrors new California legislation already in effect. This type of regulation has subsequently been added in several other states, including Maryland, Massachusetts and New York. According to Bloomberg BNA, ambiguities in the new law have many employers in California worried about a possible onslaught of claims against them based on really vague terms, such as “substantially similar” and “bona fide factor”. Trying to understand what these vague generalities mean in the workplace is turning out to be frustrating and time consuming for many businesses.

A big deal for employers

Hiring is so expensive to begin with, and losing the ability to gauge pay based on previous employment in order to not to waste both the hiring manager and candidate’s time may make the process more costly. Salary expectation is a huge factor for all parties involved, and this legislation would make it the elephant in the room. Small companies often don’t pay the same as larger ones, and they rely on the discussion of salary history to tout what they can offer beyond pay in order to compete.

Band-Aid legislation

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“I understand the reasoning behind the legislation,” says Tina Hamilton, PHR, president of myHR Partner. “But the real issue is gender equality in setting pay within entire industries. Legislation should address that directly rather hitting small and mid-sized businesses with minor, incremental steps towards the greater goal that will hurt their ability to hire the right people.”

Hamilton notes that avoiding discrimination in all its forms is in a company’s best interest, and that examining hiring practices periodically to address issues is important. “Focusing on modern HR practices creates a better hiring process that protects your company from litigation, and promotes a work culture where employees are happier,” she adds. “It’s worth it on many levels.”

What you can do now

“If you learn a candidate’s previous salary and find they were underpaid,” says Hamilton, “you can take the opportunity to show that your company has a commitment to equal pay by bringing it up during the negotiation.” Imagine the appeal to high-talent candidates and the positive brand-building buzz that could result from a company saying, “Based on your previous salary, we believe you were underpaid. Our company is committed to pay equality and would like to offer you $_____ instead.”

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Sadly, notes Hamilton, the only way to know if a candidate was previously underpaid is to ask. If new legislation prevents that, smaller businesses will especially be at a disadvantage because they won’t be able to present to candidates that they are committed to pay equality. “Open dialog matters.”

“Avoiding the appearance of discrimination is important, no matter what the future holds for some of these proposed laws,” says Hamilton. “Business owners may be surprised to learn that some of their practices can somehow be inadvertently construed as discriminatory.”

Some things to consider doing, she suggests:

  • Training will bring your hiring managers up to speed on regulatory compliance and best practices
  • Conducting an HR audit that includes your organization’s pay and hiring practices
  • Having pay practices in place that are clear to everyone, with structured salary levels, and make them realistic so that managers can stick to them
  • Making pay criteria objective and measurable, so that starting salaries, awards and raises are part of a fair formula
  • Documenting clearly what factors are used to determine salary, promotions, bonuses, etc.
  • Making sure your documents are user-friendly and archived properly

“A lot of good can come out of updating older procedures and documents, even beyond the issue of avoiding the appearance of discrimination,” says Hamilton. “like implementing streamlined processes and establishing ways to collecting useful data.”

An HR audit can help you avoid discrimination issues

The best way to avoid discrimination issues in the workplace is to make sure you’re compliant. Our HR audits will show you where your organization is vulnerable to accusations or discrimination, and we will help you remedy the situation with modern policies, procedures and practices, including how to properly react to complaints. Beyond being compliant, we can help you create a more productive workplace as well. Contact us today!

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