Interviewing? Here’s What You Can and Can’t Ask about Salary History

Asking your job candidates salary history questions during the interview process?

You’ll want to read this post.

A few years ago, Massachusetts paved the way for banning employers from asking candidates about their salary history. Since then, other states and major cities have begun prohibiting salary questions during the interview process – and even more are considering similar legislation.

Why is legislation regarding salary history gaining momentum?

States and cities see banning salary questions as one way to help bridge the gender pay gap.

Unfortunately, despite considerable gains over the past half century, women earn roughly 80 cents for every dollar men earn. The gender pay gap continues to be a real problem, and one way this gap perpetuates itself is through questions about salary history. Furthermore, while any candidate is free to choose not to answer questions about their past salaries, research from PayScale shows that refusing to answer has a negative impact on women – but a positive impact on men.

The data indicate that women face a tougher fight than men for fair pay. In light of these facts, legislators across the country continue to change laws and pass new ones.

How should you approach salary expectation questions during the interview process?

Understanding a candidate’s salary requirements is essential to generating a solid offer. For guidance on how to comply with changing employment laws, consult an attorney who specializes in the area – and keep these points in mind:

  • Think about the future – not the past. While you may not want to ask salary history questions, it’s permissible to ask about salary expectations (i.e., questions about what the candidate would like to earn at their new job).
  • Understand the law. Tennessee has yet to ban salary history questions entirely (as of the publication date of this post), and our state has existing, general preemption statutes that bar local governments from adopting employment laws that would exceed or conflict with state or federal requirements. Still, it’s best to err on the side of caution when designing questions to gauge a candidate’s total compensation expectations.
  • Know your ranges for a given position. Set compensation ranges for each position based on its current value in the market and its value to your organization. Then, evaluate where to place each candidate within that range based on their skills and experience – rather than on their past or present salary.
  • Keep in mind that, while you may not want to ask a direct salary history question, candidates can still tell you – and often will. No law prohibits salary discussion when the candidate initiates it by volunteering their salary history.

Need help with recruiting, interviewing or crafting solid job offers?

Talk to the experts at our Gallatin recruiting agency – or your local Wood Personnel office. We can help you: quickly and cost-effectively recruit qualified candidates; provide information to help ensure your compensation offers are competitive; and assist with the negotiation process – to ensure you hire the good people you need.

Note: This information is intended to serve as a general guide only and does not provide legal advice. If you need legal advice, speak to an attorney who is licensed to practice law in your area.

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