A number of cities, states and territories in the US have banned employers from asking about candidates’ previous salaries in recent months. If you’re in the market for a new role, this is good news – the new laws are aimed at protecting you from systemic wage discrimination and will give you more power to get paid what you deserve. In the US, women still earn just 80.5 cents for every dollar a man earns. Minorities also face pay gaps of varying degrees. When companies anchor compensation to an employee’s salary at a previous role, these gaps are exacerbated over time.

For job seekers unsure how to navigate the laws, here’s a quick summary:

These states and territories have banned ALL employers from asking about salary history:

  • California – effective January 2018
  • Delaware – effective December 2017
  • Massachusetts – effective July 2018
  • New York City – effective January 2017
  • Oregon – effective October 2017
  • Puerto Rico – effective March 2017

These cities and states have banned government agencies from asking about salary history:

  • Chicago – effective April 2018
  • Pittsburgh – effective January 2017
  • New Jersey – effective February 2018
  • New Orleans – effective January 2017

These cities and states are considering banning salary history questions, or have bans drafted but not yet approved:

  • Arizona
  • Florida
  • Maryland
  • New Hampshire
  • Philadelphia
  • Rhode Island

These states have taken the opposite tack and prohibited bans on salary history questions:

  • Michigan
  • Wisconsin

Know your rights: what to do if a prospective employer asks for salary details.

The details of the laws differ from location to location. Some forbid employers from asking about past salaries, while others prohibit employers from using this information to set compensation even if it’s discovered inadvertently. Still others prohibit employers from using salary history to screen candidates, but allow them to confirm past salary after making an offer. Notably, California requires companies to provide pay scales for jobs upon request.

If you live in one of these locations and you’re asked about salary history in an interview, politely let your interviewer know that it’s not legal to discuss this information. Many companies still don’t know all the details of the new laws and it may be an honest mistake. Tell your interviewer that you’re happy to discuss your salary expectations as well as the value you’ll bring to the company. You can say, “My understanding of the current law is that employers are prohibited from asking about past salaries. However, I’d be happy to discuss the value I’ll bring to this position and my salary expectations.”

Do your homework: how to benchmark salary expectations.

Now that the focus is shifting from salary history to salary expectations, the ball’s in your court. You need to be very clear on what your expectations are before you begin your job hunt. As a starting point, you can use sites like Glassdoor to find out what people in similar roles make in your region and industry. If you are working with an executive recruiter, this recruiter should be able to provide additional insight, including what similar positions at comparable companies are paying.

You can also still use your current salary as a benchmark even if you don’t share it with your prospective employers. As a general rule of thumb, in a great market, you can expect to earn 8-10% more when you move to a new role. In a tepid market, the increase might be a more conservative 5-7%.

Changing jobs always involves some degree of risk, so have a figure in mind and use that to set your expectations. Keep in mind that companies expect to negotiate the salary offer and some may start with an amount lower than their expected price point to leave room for negotiations. Keep the focus on the value you’ll bring to this position.

Do you live in an area that has passed legislation banning salary history questions? Has this helped or hindered your job search? I’d love to hear your observations in the comments below.


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