New York City could soon pass a bill that would ban employers from asking about a job applicant’s salary history, joining a small but growing number of cities and states using the strategy to fight the gender pay gap. The bill is expected to pass this week, coinciding with Equal Pay Day, which draws attention to how much longer women must work to make as much as men earned in the previous year.
While the bill would apply to all employers and employees, it is aimed specifically at leveling the playing field, earnings-wise, between women and men and for people of color.
“Being underpaid once should not condemn you to a lifetime of inequity,” New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, who introduced the bill last summer, said in a roundtable discussion about the wage gap last week, The Cut reports.
Women in the United States are paid roughly 80 percent of what men earn on average, and women of color are paid even less. That gap starts out in entry-level positions ― even after controlling for the fact that women are more likely to go into lower-paying fields and may work fewer hours ― and increases the longer women are in the workforce. One reason why those pay differences compound over time is because many employers set salaries based on previous earnings.
The goal of the New York City regulation is to disrupt that pattern and give women a chance to catch up.
“If you are making less in your current job because you’re a woman ― which definitely happens ― and you go to a different job, the employer shouldn’t be paying you less because you were discriminated against in your old job,” Emily Martin, general counsel and vice president for workplace justice with the National Women’s Law Center, the advocacy and research group, told The Huffington Post.
Raises are often based on a percentage of an employee’s salary, Martin added, which can make it even harder for women to catch up after they start out earning less.
Of course, even if the bill passes, it still won’t necessarily be easy for a woman going through job interviews to push back if she is asked about her previous earnings.
“Certainly it’s always a difficult thing to assert your legal rights when you’re looking for a job,” Martin said. “It’s difficult to say, ‘Hey, that’s illegal.’ But that’s one reason why the publicity this measure is getting is so important. It makes it more likely that employers know this is the law.”
And New York City, which recently passed a similar ban for city employers and employees, is not the only place considering a ban on employers asking about salary history. Massachusetts was the first state to make it illegal for prospective employers to ask about previous salary, and cities like Philadelphia and New Orleans have recently passed similar city-wide bans.
Martin believes the bans have captured public imagination in part because being asked about previous salary is something many people have experienced in the course of job hunting, which makes it relatable.
“People can get it, they can relate it to their own lives,” she said, sharing her own experience of being paid less than a male colleague when she was clerking for a judge because she had previously held a public interest job and he’d come from a private law firm where salaries were higher.
But there is still a long way to go.