Can Employers Ask How Much I Made at My Last Job

Can employers ask how much I made at my last job?


An increasing number of US states and cities are taking a legislative stand against the salary-history question, especially during job interviews. As an employer (or even a job candidate), you might wonder what triggered this strong stance? Isn’t salary-history a basic criterion to determine a fair compensation package for future employees?


Read on to know more about this dilemma, and the change that is taking place across most of America.

Why the salary-history question was considered necessary?

In the past, it was not unusual for a hiring manager or HR person to ask for more details about a job candidate’s present or last salary. This important detail was often the base on which an employer-determined a new employee’s revised compensation package. At the least, the employer would try to match it, if not supersede it. In fact, this was even considered an “acceptable norm” in the hiring process.

The big change

Unfortunately, the US – like many other parts of the world – has had a history of discrimination, either based on gender or based on race or color. Due to this, there has been a distinct lack of pay parity across diverse candidates qualifying for a particular job position, despite having a similar professional background, skill-set, and experience.

If the “salary-history” criterion continues to be the primary base on which a person’s compensation package is determined, this lack of pay parity and subsequent discrimination will only continue to grow. It is hence heartening that more and more US cities and states have chosen to disregard this, right from the initial interview process.

A transforming landscape

Today, several US states and cities have either already passed laws against posing the salary-history question (during interviews), or are in the process of doing so. Here are the highlights:

  • States that have banned (or are in the process) this question include Atlanta, Alabama, Connecticut, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Philadelphia, Vermont, and Washington. More states are getting added to this list every day.
  • Many of the independent top-tier cities in the US– including New York, New Jersey, and Kansas City – have also banned employers/ companies from asking job candidates about their salary history.
  • Here, Kansas is especially noteworthy considering it reported a pay gap between men and women that was over 20% more than the rest of the country.

The non-discriminative way to the future

If you are an employer, or even a professional seeking a change in your job or career, it is critical for you to stay updated on FCRA laws governing your state. (Many professionals are still unaware that they are protected by FCRA regulations against pay imparity due to discrimination based on gender, race, or color). This change is happening at a rapid across the US, and you do not want to be inadvertently caught on the wrong side of the law.

Now if you are an employer or an HR professional, this can still be a challenge. How else would you determine a suitable compensation package for new employees?

Top suggestions include:

  • Having a (yearly?) discussion between the corporate heads, including finance and HR departments, in order to determine a pay-range for every role. This would apply regardless of the race/gender/color of the person fulfilling the role.
  • Being upfront about the pay-range during the initial interview process. This will also increase transparency in pay scales, with the potential to eliminate pay imparity altogether.
  • Finally, this also needs to be factored into the pre-employment screening process.

For best results, always make sure to stay updated on the rules and regulations governing your state of employment. For instance, some states still allow employers to seek salary history information from job applicants. However, the candidate is legally allowed to refuse from providing this information. Furthermore, the employer or the hiring manager is also legally disallowed from pursuing any retaliatory action due to this position.

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