On Wednesday, April 5, 2017, the New York City Council gave overwhelming approval to a bill that prevents public and private employers from inquiring about salary history. The bill was introduced in August 2016 by Letitia James, New York City’s Public Advocate. NBC News reports that equal pay advocates hope that the legislation will help close the gender wage gap that “disproportionately hurts Asian, black, and Hispanic women.”
According to a report issued by the Public Advocate’s office, “women in New York were cheated out of $5.8 billion a year in lost wages, and so when employees used previous salary information to determine compensation it perpetuates the gender wage gap by relying on salaries that reflect the wage discrimination,” not the qualifications of the candidate.
The bill is currently awaiting the signature of Mayor de Blasio which is expected soon since he has publicly expressed his support of the measure. The mayor previously signed an executive order prohibiting salary inquiries when interviewing prospects for jobs with city agencies. The new law will expand this prohibition to the private sector and will go into effect 180 days after he signs.
Once the law goes into effect, it will amend New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). Under the new provision, it will be unlawful discrimination for an employer to inquire about an applicant’s current or past salary with a current or former employer. Salary includes wages, benefits, bonuses, and other forms of compensation. An employer may not ask the applicant, former or current employers of the applicant, current or former co-workers of the applicant, or conduct a search of public records to obtain such information.
An employer may not use salary history to determine compensation for an applicant unless the applicant voluntarily, without prompting, offers the information.
The new measure does not mean that a job applicant and prospective employer may not discuss salary and benefits. Of course, an employer may ask a candidate about his or her expectations for salary, and provide information on what the employer anticipates offering for the position.
The good news is that since Congress passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963 when a woman made 54 cents for every dollar a man did, the gap has become smaller. According to Fortune, a woman in 2017 earns an average of 82 cents for every dollar a man does. Narrowing the gender wage gap just 28 cents has taken over 50 years.
Supporters of New York City’s bill hope that preventing prospective employers from asking about salary history can level the playing field for female applicants. Throughout history, despite legislation like the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its amendments, women have experienced gender bias and discrimination at work. Consider how the following may affect the wages of female employees:
If at any stage in a women’s employment, her paycheck reflects the above discriminatory behaviors, that worker may be at a financial disadvantage for the duration of her career. An employer who looks into her salary history would perhaps see that she made less than she should have and use that to negotiate a lower deal. In other words, if I am an employee whose salary history reflects my full value, knowing my salary would not cause me harm. But, if I am an employee whose salary history reflects years of being undervalued and underpaid, knowing this would likely perpetuate my situation.
However, the New York City bill would prohibit the employer from seeking that information. Hopefully, the employer would fashion a salary proposal based on more important and neutral factors like qualifications, recommendations, skills, education, and experience.
Leeds Brown Law, P.C. is a full-service employment discrimination firm representing clients in New York City and the surrounding metropolitan area. If you have questions about your wages, workplace discrimination or sexual harassment call our office for a free consultation. You can reach employment discrimination attorneys in New York City at 1-800-585-4658.