The Ripple Effect of Banning the Salary Conversation

When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the bill known as Intro. 1253, proponents of the legislation cheered.

Heather Oneill

When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the bill known as Intro. 1253, proponents of the legislation cheered. Intro. 1253 prohibits all employers in the city from inquiring about or relying upon the salary history of a job applicant to determine the salary they will be offered during the hiring process. They believe that the legislation, sponsored by Public Advocate Letitia James, is a groundbreaking achievement in the fight for pay equity.

“A woman in New York State working full time makes about 87 cents for every dollar a man earns, or a difference of $6,778 in median annual income,” James wrote in an April 2016 policy report analyzing the gender wage gap in New York City’s workforce. “Altogether, women in New York State earn about $19.6 billion in wages less than men each year. The gender wage gap not only affects women but all members of their communities, including the men, children, and families who depend on the important economic contributions of women.”

From cities like New York City and New Orleans to states like Massachusetts, similar laws are popping up all over the country. Employment law experts expect the momentum to continue, and believe that other states and cities will follow suit with legislation banning conversations about salary history during the hiring process.

Advocates applaud the move, believing that leaving salary history out of discussions might help undo some of the pay inequity of the past and will help – finally – to bring all salaries up to the same level.

Back in May, Mayor de Blasio took it one step further, suggesting that all minorities – not just women – could benefit from the law.

“It is unacceptable that we’re still fighting for equal pay for equal work. The simple fact is that women and people of color are frequently paid less for the same work as their white, male counterparts. This Administration has taken bold steps to combat the forces of inequality that hold people back, and this bill builds upon the progress we have made to close the pay gap and ensure everyone is treated with the respect they deserve.”

But critics believe that not only will the legislation not solve this pervasive problem; it may cause others, including undermining workers’ ability to negotiate and perpetuating stereotypes about women and minorities.

Some experts believe that salary history is a relevant consideration in the employment process and one that employers should be allowed to weigh, and that laws that prohibit employers from asking about salary history altogether may unjustly tie the hands of jobseekers who are willing and able to negotiate.

A ban on asking about salary history went into effect in Puerto Rico in March, causing recruiters there to make changes to the screening and interview process. Some recruiters there wonder if the new law will make the recruiting process more labor intensive.

Rose Dougherty is a senior recruiter at BOLD, a tech company whose brands include LiveCareer and MightyRecruiter. BOLD has offices in Puerto Rico, and equal pay legislation there has changed the conversation recruiters can have about salary. Whereas before, recruiters would ask what a candidate was currently earning; now, she said, they can only ask what they hope to make in their next role.

“We are going to have to look even more closely than we already do at applicants’ skill sets and their years of experience to determine who is most likely to fit into the salary range we’ve established for a role,” she said. “At the moment, BOLD does not publish salary ranges, but it’s something we may consider doing in the future to prevent our staff from wasting time interviewing candidates whose salary expectations are out of line with what we’re able to offer.”