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Can Employers Ask Job Applicants About Salary History?


Applying for a job can be a long and difficult process. Many job seekers will respond to dozens of job posts weekly, hoping one will call back and offer an interview. After weeks and possibly months of waiting, one sticking point can ruin chances: salary expectations.

While most employers are legally allowed to ask candidates about their past salaries, there is a growing movement to stop this uncomfortable practice. Many states have passed laws to bar the question. A study published last year by researchers at Boston University and Boston University School of Law has shown that this shift has helped black and female workers, often suffering from pay gaps, to garner more compensation.

This debate has become increasingly important, as millions wait to re-enter the workforce following massive layoffs from the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Many are leaving low-paying jobs in customer service and trying to find more lucrative positions. As companies compete to fill these roles, asking about salary history will face increased scrutiny.

Where Have Legislators Banned Salary History Questions?

Since 2017, there has been a trend of legislatures prohibiting or dissuading employers from asking job applicants to disclose their previous salaries. Some of these states include:


  • Alabama
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Virginia



In addition to some form of statewide bans, cities like Philadelphia, New Orleans, Salt Lake City, and Louisville have enacted local laws to keep employers from asking about salary history. It is recommended that job applicants inform themselves about what the laws are when applying in certain places, especially when considering moving to a different state or metro market.

Why Do Salary Histories Matter?

Employers have used salary histories in the past to discriminate and exclude certain candidates and potentially save money by offering less salary than what is budgeted. This practice has also been cited as a major factor in maintaining and furthering the pay gap between races and genders. Disclosing a below-market wage would likely encourage future employers to continue undervaluing a worker, offering a less significant pay increase with a new position.

What can Applicants Do to Avoid Salary History Questions?

There are a few ways to work around the question if applicants are uncomfortable. When responding to an online post, leave the entry blank if not required, or enter $0 or $1 if an entry is needed. During an interview, there are tactful ways to avoid answering or politely refusing. If the position is in an area where the question is banned, it should not be asked at all.

More job postings now include salary ranges. A great way to avoid the question is to know what is expected in the industry or position. Noting what someone at a rival company makes can help when salary is not disclosed. Applicants are encouraged to ask employers during the interview process about salary if not provided upfront.

If disclosing salary voluntarily, do so if comfortable. If moving to a larger market with a higher cost of living, it might help to determine if the position offers fair value. Also, do not lie about previous salaries. Employers can usually spot that easily and will likely dismiss dishonest applicants. For further help, it is important to speak to a lawyer.

Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Help Clients with Employment-Based Predicaments

Job seekers have enough to worry about without dealing with illegal and underhanded practices by potential employers. Sometimes, it takes a skilled advocate to help resolve issues. The Philadelphia employment lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. have the experience to fight for your rights. Call us at 215-574-0600 or contact us online for an initial consultation. Based in Philadelphia, we proudly serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.