California Law Will Prohibit Questions About Salary History

Most of us have been there. While engaged in the tedious process of filling out a job application — painstakingly listing carefully chosen references, straining to remember phone numbers and emails, and detailing work history — we finally get to a page asking for the details of our salary history.  In addition to being faced with more tedious work, we can’t help but feel our privacy is being invaded. Why does a prospective employer want to know what a prospect made in the past? What business is it of theirs?

If these thoughts have ever run through your mind during the job application process, there’s a bit of good news for you. On October 12, Governor Jerry Brown signed a new law prohibiting employers from seeking salary history information. This law also applies to recruiters.

According to the National Law Review, California is among several states and municipalities engaged in the trend of prohibiting employers from asking salary history questions. Other places leading the charge include: Oregon, New York City, Massachusetts, Philadelphia, Puerto Rico and San Francisco.

ApplicantAn Underlying Strategy to Benefit Female Employees

While the new law prohibits employers from asking either men or women applicants about their salary history, it is believed by some that the law was designed to benefit women by attempting to close the gender pay gap. The bill prohibiting salary history questions was signed by Governor Brown at a Sacramento nonprofit for homeless women called Women’s Empowerment.

According to an article by the OC Register, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia addressed those gathered for the signing.

“Women will no longer be asked about their prior salaries,” Garcia said. “What some people think is a simple question has been a barrier to equal pay.”

In addition to prohibiting questions about salary history, employers will also be required to provide applicants the salary range for the jobs being sought upon request.

The Pay Gap in the U.S. is Narrowing, But Stubbornly Remains

In April of this year, the Pew Research Center published an article discussing an analysis of median hourly earnings of full and part-time U.S. employees. The analysis found that although the pay gap between men and women has narrowed since 1980, it continues to be an issue for many. According to Pew’s research, in 2015, women earned 83 percent of what men earned.

While employers might float a number of different reasons to explain the disparity in pay, such as women frequently leaving the work force to have children, it stands to reason that inquiries into salary history could be having an effect. If a prospective employer makes a salary offer to a woman who’s historically made less than her male colleagues, there’s a good chance that woman will be offered less money.

What the Law Says About Discrimination

The state law protecting California workers, known as the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), protects a number of different classes of employees, including women. In the case of female employees and job applicants, it is unlawful under FEHA § 12940 for companies to discriminate in “compensation, or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.”

A female employee who successfully wins a lawsuit against an employer based on wage discrimination could potentially be entitled to collect back pay, lost wages, and even punitive damages.

Have Questions? Ask an Employment Attorney

It’s an unfortunate fact of life, but discrimination happens in the workplace all the time — a fact that is highlighted by continuing wage disparity in the workplace. What’s even more unfortunate is that many employers aren’t held accountable for their unlawful behavior.

The good news is, with the passage of the new law regarding salary histories, employees have more protections when it comes to being treated equally in the workplace. With the help of a good employment attorney, a worker who has been mistreated due to discrimination, harassment, or some other workplace violation, can still seek justice and hopefully receive fair compensation.

If you’re concerned by an employer’s questions about your salary history, or have questions about California employment law, contact our office for more information.

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