AccelPro | Employment & Labor Law
AccelPro | Employment Law
On Salary History Bans

On Salary History Bans

With Jessica Stender, Policy Director and Deputy Legal Director of Equal Rights Advocates | Interviewed by Matt Crossman

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Welcome to AccelPro Employment Law, where we provide expert interviews and coaching to accelerate your professional development. Today, we are featuring a discussion with Jessica Stender about salary history bans.

Stender, Policy Director and Deputy Legal Director of Equal Rights Advocates, says salary history bans are an effective tool to stop pay discrimination. Twenty-one states, plus Puerto Rico, have laws prohibiting employers from asking prospective employees about their salary histories, and Stender says many companies are voluntarily not asking the question as a way to fight pay discrimination.

While the laws are relatively new – the first one was passed eight years ago – research shows they work in multiple ways. “The research shows that the pay gap shrinks for women and for workers of color,” Stender says. “So it has a two-pronged effect of stopping both gender- and race-based pay disparities from being perpetuated.”

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Interview References:


Matt Crossman, Host: You are the Policy Director and Deputy Legal director for Equal Rights Advocates. What is Equal Rights Advocates, and what do you do for them?

Jessica Stender: Equal Rights Advocates is a national gender justice organization, and we advocate for the rights of women, girls and other marginalized gender identities at work and at school. 

We provide legal representation to workers who have experienced issues at work, usually related to pay discrimination, sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination, and then we also advocate for the rights of girls who have experienced harassment and discrimination at school, usually after experiencing harassment or assault.

In my policy director role, I lead our legislative advocacy, fighting for the rights of women and other gender identities at work and school. 

MC: The narrow topic we’re going to talk about today is salary history bans, which are an important tool in the fight for pay equity. But I want to start with a broader question about the state of the pay equity world. What are the latest numbers in terms of discrepancies across groups? Has it gotten any better? And is there any reason you think it will continue to get better?

JS: Although the gender pay gap has improved some over time, the progress really has been slow. When you look at the toll that the gender wage gap takes on women, especially women of color, and the families that women support, it’s clear that the rate of change and the rate of the gap shrinking is way too slow. More proactive steps are needed.

The wage gap is calculated by looking at U.S. Census Bureau data, which is released every year on working people. There are two ways of looking at the gap that women workers face. There’s the wage gap that women working full-time year round face as compared to men working full-time year round.

And there’s also the gap that all women workers face, so full-time, year-round workers, part-time workers and part year or seasonal workers. Whichever way you look at it for full-time, year-round, working women, there is a very large wage gap for women overall. 

Without taking into account race or ethnicity, the wage gap for full-time, year-round working women is 84 cents to the dollar.

When you look at all women workers full-time, year-round, part-time and seasonal, the wage gap is even larger. It’s 77 cents to the dollar, and that gap gets much larger for women of color because they experience a combination of both sexism and racism.

Black women workers earn just 67 cents to the dollar for full-time year round working women. For all Black women, it’s 64 cents to the dollar. Latinas’ wage gap is 74 cents for all workers as compared to white men. Native women have the largest gap—they earn just 51 cents to the dollar compared to white men. So the gap is very large.

MC: One possible tool to fix this is what’s known as a salary history ban. How can such bans contribute to the push toward pay equity?

JS: For so long it has been expected that when you are applying to a job, the employer will ask you what you’re making in your current job as a way to really determine the lowest pay they can give you.

That’s been commonplace for employers for many years. But with the increased awareness about the wage gap, there has also been an increased awareness of the fact that this seemingly harmless practice really perpetuates these gender and race-based pay gaps and allows them to follow women throughout their careers.

Since an employer is basing their current pay offer on someone’s past pay, it allows that past pay discrimination to follow women from job to job. 

There’s been a lot of momentum at the state and local level to pass what are called salary history bans, which can take different forms.

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