How to recruit in an age of salary history bans

The salary history ban in some state and local governments has added yet another item to the list of questions you can’t ask in an interview. But it doesn’t have to cripple your recruiting efforts.

The history

First, let’s talk about why this ban was enacted in the first place. The intention of the ban is to address pay equity – which means paying people the same amount for performing the same work. When you rely on a candidate’s salary history information that had inequity in the past, it can carry into the future.


It’s a growing trend for state and local governments to adopt these laws and regulations. Some of them are in process and some have passed and just aren’t effective, so it’s a lot to keep up with. It’s good to know what’s going on with this running list of states and localities that have outlawed pay history questions.


In addition, it’s important to know that some bans go further than just excluding pay history questions. A few also prohibit an employer from relying on an applicant’s pay history to set compensation if discovered or volunteered. Others prohibit an employer from taking disciplinary action against employees who discuss pay with coworkers. So, as you can see, the rules around each ban have nuances that can be difficult for any company to manage.


The new recruiting processes

Talking about salary is such a natural part of the recruiting process that some companies thought, “How am I supposed to hire people at the rate I want to pay?” The good news is, there are ways to deal with it. Here’s how:

  1. Do your research. The biggest thing for companies is to understand their internal pay requirements for a role so it takes the focus off the individual candidate. Know ranges, experience levels, skills, what they bring to the table vs. what the market pays and what’s competitive and equitable.
  2. Think nationally. If your company operates in many different cities and states throughout the country, you may want to consider removing the salary history questions from the interview process (and any forms that might ask the question) across the board. Otherwise, you will have to comply with each individual law every time you conduct an interview.
  3. You can still ask about expectations. Ask questions like, “What are you targeting?” or “What are your expectations?” The pay range the candidate is open to is especially important in recruiting because there may not be a specific job for them at the time of your conversation. To match them with a job at some point will require a general idea of what their range is.
  4. Proceed with caution. If the candidate volunteers their salary history, don’t ask for additional details. Proceed with the interview as if they hadn’t provided the information. And do not document the salary information they provided.
  5. Stay up-to-date with the laws. Because it’s a growing list you really have to be on top of the various laws as they continue to change. You can read up on employment law through industry organizations like SHRM and the American Staffing Association, but some of them require membership. Many attorneys also publish this type of information through newsletters or blogs and you can usually join their distribution list for free. Or, you can just stay current with the news through business publications. Anything big regarding employment law is going to come out in these types of newspapers as well.


While it has been an adjustment for our recruiters, the salary history ban hasn’t been earth-shattering. We’ve managed to continue to recruit, interview and hire candidates successfully with a few minor adjustments. And I know you will be able to as well. If you would like some help with your recruiting efforts, contact us today.


About the author
Brooke Norbert serves as HR Manager for Synergis. She has more than 7 years of experience in human resources, including payroll, benefits, recruiting, training and development, performance management, workers’ compensation, unemployment, and federal/state/local labor and safety compliance. Brooke earned a bachelor’s degree from Eastern University in anthropology.

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