Nation’s capital wants to ban salary histories

A D.C. lawmaker says asking for salary histories “perpetuates the wage gap problem.”

CREDIT: iStockPhoto
CREDIT: iStockPhoto

First, Massachusetts became the only state to ban employers from asking about prospective employees’ salary histories. Then New York City and Congress followed suit.

Now lawmakers in the nation’s capital want to be the next: A city council member has introduced legislation that would ban salary histories.

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David Grosso (I-At Large) introduced a bill last week that would fine a company for asking about a job applicant’s salary history and ban them from posting positions that are only open to people who earn a certain salary. It would still leave room for applicants to voluntarily share salary information.

Grosso told ThinkProgress that if a woman or a person of color is paid unequally in a first job, that will follow her all the way through her career. “That perpetuates the wage gap problem,” he said. Research has found that women fresh out of college make less than men in their first jobs even with the same grades, majors, and fields.

He thinks candidates will be better off if they don’t have to disclose salary histories. “A person that’s trying to get a job in a company is in a much more powerful position if your company doesn’t already know what your salary is at your current job,” he said. “A more powerful position to negotiate for a higher salary.”

After talking to people in Massachusetts and in Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s (D-DC) office, who introduced the legislation in Congress, Grosso decided to offer his own version. “This one seemed like low-hanging fruit,” he said. “I think it’ll be easy for folks to comply with.”

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Since these kinds of bills have started to spread, there have been some who worry that banning employers from seeking information could backfire on candidates. There is some evidence that legislation that bans employers from asking about criminal histories leads them to discriminate against young black men.

Grosso noted that banning salary histories won’t “completely stomp out” all existing gender discrimination, but that there’s a long way to go to see if there are negative consequences.

As in Massachusetts, D.C. lawmakers are pairing the pushback on salary histories with another measure that would require equal pay for “substantially similar” work, not just in the exact same job. Occupations dominated by women tend to pay less even when the tasks are basically the same; for instance, housekeepers make less than janitors. Such an idea was tried in the 1980s among state governments and it significantly reduced the wage gap. The bill has been introduced by Council member Mary M. Cheh (D), and Grosso said he strongly supports it.

He noted, though, that these two measures would work together on different aspects of the wage gap. “That’s on the back end once you’re in the job,” he said of Cheh’s legislation. “My bill is trying to avoid inadvertent continuation of the wage gap on the front end.” They can therefore work in tandem.