A new law eliminating salary history from job applications is a strategic solution to closing the gender pay gap

Mums the word.
Mums the word.
Image: Reuters/Gary Cameron
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When it comes to negotiating salaries for new hires, employers typically have a leg up before they’ve even offered the job. That’s because most US employers request salary history on their job application form. Now, some US cities and states are taking steps to remove those.

Starting in December, it will be illegal for city agencies in New York to ask job applicants for their salary history. The executive order signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio comes on the heels of a similar law passed in Massachusetts that prevents any employer from requesting salary history. Other states like California and New York are considering similar proposals, while another congresswoman is proposing a federal version of the legislation.

Pay equity experts say the legislation can tackle a pernicious problem. One reason women in the USwho currently earn, on average, 79% of what men do—have trouble closing the gender pay gap is because their lower salaries follow them around from job to job. “Many [women and minorities] carry lower salaries for their entire careers simply because of wages at previous jobs that were set unfairly,” said District of Columbia congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who plans to sponsor the federal legislation.

Of course, doing away with pay disclosures won’t address the pay lag women experience in existing jobs, where they have a harder time than men achieving a pay raise for various reasons.

The Massachusetts law, which goes into effect in July 2018, also makes it illegal (paywall) for companies to prohibit workers from telling each other about their pay, which in theory promotes salary transparency and gives workers more leverage with employers. Maryland and California also recently enacted laws requiring equal pay for “comparable” work; California’s requires that employers prove that they pay workers of both genders equally for similar work.

Even in states where it’s still legal to request pay history, job applicants aren’t required to bite. Workplace consultant Alison Green told Money that when asked about salary history, applicants can simply respond: ”I’ve always kept that confidential, but I’m seeking a range of X to Y.”