Making the Salary History Ban Work For You

Everyone’s least favorite interview question has been banned in California. Last month, Governor Jerry Brown signed into legislation a law prohibiting Hiring Managers, Employers, and Recruiters from asking any questions pertaining to past salary or benefits.

The law, AB-168, aims to narrow the wage gap in California by eliminating a well-known source of racial and gender discrimination – one’s salary history. Taking cues from recent legislation in New York City, Massachusetts, Puerto Rico, Delaware, Oregon, Philadelphia (pending legal challenge), and California’s own San Francisco, Bill 168 helps to protect against and minimize instances of wage discrimination.

The details:

No more sweating it out waiting for the invasive – and frankly irrelevant – salary inquiry; no more wondering how many times you can skirt those prying questions before it becomes obvious that your past salary was less than satisfactory.

Under Bill 168, you can be secure in the knowledge that:

Any employer asking for the details of your previous benefits package – be it in an interview, on a survey, or in a preliminary questionnaire – can face serious legal recourse.

Upon reasonable request, employers must provide you with a pay scale for the prospective job.

You are fully within your rights to communicate information regarding past salary and benefits if you think it’s to your benefit.

Why the change in policy?

There’s a reason every article, blog post, and #InterviewTip advises against answering the salary question. It is almost never in anyone’s interest to reveal their wage history.

That being said, salary questions tend to unfairly discriminate against and target minority groups and women.

Women: According to a 2013 study, women make 6.6% less than men in their first jobs out of college, even controlling for college major, location, hours worked, occupation and demographics. This wage gap compounds over a woman’s life – when a man (Vs. a woman) gets a 5% raise on his already 6.6% higher salary, the gap is widened. As it currently stands, women in California make an average of $8,000/year less than men. Every time a woman is made to reveal her past salary, this cycle of discrimination is repeated and reinforced.

People of Color: The same can and should be said of POC, who are unfairly paid lower wages in their first job, only to have that wage follow them for the remainder of their professional careers. A 2015 study shows that POC earn significantly less (75 cents on the dollars) than caucasians in the US.

Older/Experienced Candidates: The prospect of finding a job at an advanced age can be daunting. Add to that the necessity of revealing a sometimes very high past salary, and it can seem as though you’ll never find work again.

It’s something we often fail to consider: a high salary can be a turn off. Many older candidates would be happy accepting lower wages if it means doing something they love, or simply making ends meet. Sharing a high salary can hinder job opportunities.

What if you’re asked anyway?

Number one rule: don’t react defensively. This is a new law, and it’s very possible that your interviewer has made an honest mistake. We recommend politely reminding them of the new legislation: try, “I don’t think you’re allowed to ask that anymore, but I’d be happy to discuss any future benefits package.”

It’s important that your response not shut the door to negotiations. You don’t want this to be an awkward moment, but a moment that’ll move the conversation into more productive discussions.

How to negotiate salary without a benchmark.

How do you defend your worth without alluding to past salary to support your claim? Historical validation is one of the easiest ways to show your value – without it, you’re going to have to get creative.

1. Do your research: gather information on average salaries for your line of work and general experience level. Print out your findings and highlight key elements that you can reference in negotiations.

2. Once you’ve established a bracket, prepare examples to legitimize why you belong in the mid-to-upper range. Reference your specific work experience, the number of people you have managed, the success of particular projects, etc.

3. Emphasize how your experience in a past job adds value to this one. If you’re coming from sales and transitioning to recruiting, use your sales experience as a major talking point.

4. Use Glassdoor’s Salary Calculator to estimate your fair-market value. This smart tool takes education, experience, and location into consideration when estimating your expected salary.

5. Just because you don’t have to reveal salary history doesn’t mean it’s not to your benefit. If you were well paid in your last job, then by all means – play that card.

Why it’s important.

It seems obvious: people shouldn’t have to carry around one bad salary for the rest of their careers. Multiple elements play into a person’s starting salary, and knowledge or experience aren’t even necessary among the top factors. Negotiating skills, market rates, confidence, implicit biases, and ignorance can each feature in an ultimate salary decision or negotiation.

By erasing the salary question from interview books entirely, everyone is given an equal opportunity to showcase their skills, knowledge, and experience. It’s a move toward a more merit-based, unbiased system, and it should be celebrated widely.

Although Bill 168 won’t eradicate wage discrimination, it will help millions of women and minorities as they fight to be recognized as equally competent – and equally compensated – members of the workforce.

In the coming months, we’re hosting a variety of events with local D&I initiatives. Come say hi, get involved, and learn how we can make a difference – together.