Should Asking About Job Applicants’ Pay History be Banned?

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Employers asking about pay history – do you agree with it, disagree with it, or feel indifferently? Most people have an opinion on this matter, and today, it’s becoming more of a source of contention than perhaps ever before. For those interested in this specific hiring issue, here’s the scoop on the debate, the pros and cons of the question, and the current state of its actual legality.

About Salary History

The question at the center of attention here is that of salary history. Do you know what your salary history is or what it says about you? A person’s salary history can come by one of two ways. In one, applicants for a job are asked to provide salary information alongside other job specs in the same form. The other type of salary history is slightly more comprehensive and is a report, all unto itself, that only cites salaries earned at previous positions.

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The Core Debate

A lot of information can be gleaned from such pay data. Much disinformation and disingenuous methods can also be a result of possessing it. The flexibility in its use therefore forms the core of the debate. Should the act of asking about pay history be an acceptable or legal hiring practice? Naturally, there are many advocates to both sides of the argument.

Providing Pay History: Pros and Cons

Like all hotly contested mechanisms of employment and the hiring process, there is some weight to both sides of the debate, and there are, as well, pros and cons to each of those positions. To help clarify it all, looking to such consequences can really help one in forming a valid and educated opinion. Here are some of the primary pros and cons of providing that pay history when asked.


Following Directions – Applicants that follow directions and give all requested info have demonstrated the basic ability to follow directions. Not doing so can be detrimental.

Clarity and Openness – By cooperating, the candidate also displays a sense of openness and clarity that is attractive.

Helpful to Employer – In general, having this info paints a larger picture for the employer and is simply helpful to have at times.


Leveraging of Pay – Pay can be leveraged in all sorts of ways based on your past salary. A high-paying job, for example, could then potentially and unfairly under-pay an employee based on these numbers.

False Assumptions – An employer can also assume the worst of an employee that was unfortunate enough to have a low, past salary. These low, past pay rates may have had nothing to do with that worker’s actual skills and work merit.

History and Current Legality

Until just recently, history has shown this matter tended to be on a case-by-case basis with employers holding ultimate discretion. This has begun to change recently though as states and municipalities have started to regulate against this question being posed. Recently, Massachusetts became the first state to outlaw the practice as a whole. As a city, Philadelphia also recently became the first to outlaw the practice. No federal action has yet taken place, but these happenings certainly show the current trend.

The request for a potential employee’s past salary history is one that has been quite acceptable for decades. This has begun to change though, with the trend going squarely against the right of the potential employer to request such info of the candidate. For anyone trying to form their own opinion, these are the basics of the current debate on employers asking about pay history as well as current legal trends in relation to that question.

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