Philadelphia to become the first city to ban salary histories

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. CREDIT: AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Massachusetts became the first state to prohibit salary histories in August. Now Philadelphia will become the first American city to do the same.

In late December, the Philadelphia city council unanimously passed a measure that will ban employers from asking about a job applicant’s salary history or relying on such information at any point in the hiring process. On Thursday, Mayor Jim Kenney (D) said he would sign it into law as early as Monday.

“Since women are paid on average lower wages than men, basing wages upon a worker’s wage at a previous job only serves to perpetuate gender wage inequalities,” the text of the bill states. “Salary offers should be based upon the job responsibilities of the position sought and not based upon the prior wages earned by the applicant.”

The law also protects anyone from retaliation for refusing to divulge her salary history, although it does allow a prospective employee to voluntarily share the information.

The bill had sparked a high-profile backlash from businesses, including a threat from Comcast to sue the city if it passed. But Kenney appeared unfazed by it. “We may get sued, we may not,” he said. “But council passed this measure by unanimous vote, and I see no reason why I shouldn’t sign it.”

The idea behind bans on salary histories — which are being considered in a number of other places as well, including Congress — is to disrupt any pay discrimination that women and people of color may face throughout their careers. Women make less than men in their first jobs out of college even when they have all the same credentials, and that wage gap only continues to grow with time. They make less than men in virtually every job, even if they get more education.

People of color also make less than white people, even when they take on higher levels of education. Women of color face the biggest wage gaps.

These pay gaps that open up so early on only get carried forward if compensation at new jobs is based on past pay. By barring employers from basing salaries at a new job on what people were paid previously, these laws aim to give workers a fresh start.

While Massachusetts and Philadelphia will be the only places so far to impose full bans, New York State and New York City both passed measures barring government agencies from asking for salary histories.