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Should an employer be able to ask a job applicant how much money she made in her last job?

Earlier this month, New York City joined a growing group of cities and states that have outlawed the practice of asking job applicants how much money they earned in their previous jobs. Massachusetts and California enacted similar laws last year and Maine as well as Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas are considering similar bills. New York City and these other states and cities have passed these laws in order to combat the persistent gender pay gap in the United States that results in women earning less than men.

Laws prohibiting inquiries about pay history are supposed to help combat the gender pay gap because employers often ask applicants about their pay history in order to determine how much pay to offer them. If the applicant faced discriminatory pay practices in the past, those discriminatory practices get perpetuated if future employers rely on the applicant’s previous unfairly depressed pay to set her pay in her new job. This is why the bill under consideration in Maine would make questioning job applicants about their pay history evidence of discrimination.

In testimony before the Maryland legislature, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) explained the reason for these laws like this: “if a job applicant’s prior employer discriminated against her in setting her pay below her male counterparts’, or the applicant previously worked in a female-dominated profession where pay is lower precisely because women do the jobs and ‘women’s work’ is undervalued, and the new employer sets her pay based on that prior job’s salary, the pay discrimination that applicant faced in her previous job will follow her, depressing her new wages.”

The new law in New York City has the potential to affect hiring practices nationwide. Large companies tend to standardize their hiring practices and many large companies do a lot of business in New York City. Since these companies will have to modify their hiring practices to comply with this new law, many of them will likely modify their hiring practices nationwide in order to maintain uniformity in their hiring processes.