Massachusetts: First State to Ban Queries on Worker Pay

Massachusetts has led the way on the path to ethical compensation for all employees. In 2016, Massachusetts first instituted a ban on requiring job candidates to provide a salary history and a number of states have followed suit since then.

What You Should Know

This ban on worker pay queries was drafted in 2016 and is one of the measures many states are taking to systematically narrow the wage gap between genders.

The thought behind this is that if a candidate is a woman, there is a strong chance that she is earning a lower salary than a male candidate. By inquiring about salary, an employer could potentially contribute to the gender pay gap by offering the female candidate a similarly low salary or by offering a minimal salary increase.

If employers are unable to inquire about pay history, salary offers are kept more objective and may help to slowly balance this inequity.

This, coupled with the new Massachusetts Equal Pay Act which came into effect in July 2018, may present a challenge to HR professionals.

What You Should Do

For HR advisors in charge of hiring or interviewing candidates, it is paramount that you refrain from asking any questions regarding previous salary until after making an offer. If an offer is made, or you are given consent by the candidate, you may then contact a candidate’s previous employers to confirm pay history.

According to the law, employers may ask a candidate about their expectations for pay, but it cannot be phrased in such a way that the candidate would be forced into revealing their pay history.    

When examining your recruiting and HR strategies in light of this new law, you may want to consider restructuring the format of job applications for new candidates or consider retraining your interviewers. Questions about pay history have been fairly common in the past, so it is important to make sure that neither your hiring documents nor your hiring staff fall out of compliance with the law.

While it could seem like an unnecessary obstacle added your HR systems, bans on worker pay queries may actually be beneficial for your business.

Rather than relying on a candidate’s previous salary to gauge what they should be offered, your team of recruiters should reorient your HR strategies to focus on establishing an objectively reasonable offer. Then, in an interview, a candidate has the option to reveal previous salary if they want to negotiate the offer further.

In an article by the Society for Human Resource Management, Kelly Marinelli (SHRM-SCP) argues that interviewers should shift their focus from asking what a candidate has made previously to what they believe a reasonable salary offer would be.  

“This is the way employers find out what is of value to the potential employees they want to attract,” Marinelli said. “Ideally, this inquiry should happen at the initial screening stage, so that the employer and job seeker don’t waste time in the process if their expectations are not close enough together to make it worthwhile.”

Implementing this new legislation into your business may mean some significant changes in your HR department. If this task seems daunting, the HR experts at Commonwealth Payroll and HR are readily available to help you navigate this new challenge. Give us a call today at 978-599-1500 to ask about how we can support your HR and Payroll needs.