Insight

Employment law changes in the United States

By David Lawrence |

In the past, your current and previous salary history was a commonplace question in interviews in the US. The interviewer is looking to get an idea of what you've been paid before to assess what you're worth, and what you might be prepared to accept. But in recent years, the tide has been turning against questions regarding salary, as increasing numbers of cities and states outright ban the practice to help protect gender pay.

What's the trend?

The first state to implement this legislation was Massachusetts in 2016, barring employers from asking about previous salary and forcing them to state a figure up-front, representative of that employee's value to the organisation. When the law was passed in Massachusetts, the justification behind it was that it eliminated historical trends keeping salaries low in certain professions, and broke the chain of lower salaries often received by women and minorities. Massachusetts was the first state to introduce such a progressive law, but 12 other states had already been looking into how to make a dent in the trend, allowing employees to compare notes on their salaries and sue companies paying discriminatorily.

Since then, a raft of other cities and states have passed similar laws, including New York, Philadelphia, Delaware and Oregon - with the latest bill passed as recently as October 2017. Gender discrimination is, of course, already illegal under federal law - but the new regulations make covert discrimination harder. There are some exceptions on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis: some (like Delaware) only ban applicant 'screening' based on salary history, while others (like Massachusetts) even ban conditions which disallow discussion of pay within the business. Some also allow employers to talk about salary 'expectations' rather than hard details, but it remains to be seen how these discussions fare in court.

What's next?

The spread of these laws, and others like them, seems inexorable. The State of California, New Jersey, San Francisco and Washington State are already considering banning salary history screening, though there are a number of legal challenges pending in states that have already passed the law. Philadelphia in particular has had to suspend its law pending a legal challenge, and several others are yet to take legal effect.

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David Lawrence

Written by David Lawrence

David is the founder of Vine Resources.