Salary History Disclosure

During your job search, someone may ask you for your salary history. This is a tough position to be in, especially if you are hoping for a significant pay increase over your last job. Revealing your salary history could compromise your position in pay negotiations. It's important to respond in a way that maintains your negotiating position without hurting your chance at the job. For more information about disclosing your salary, read below.

  1. Why do employers ask for your previous salary?
  2. Are employers allowed to ask me about my salary history?
  3. Do I have to answer questions about my previous salary?
  4. Why do many people choose not to disclose their previous salary?
  5. The job description doesn't contain a salary range. Should I inquire about the salary range before applying for the job?
  6. How do I answer salary questions on job applications?
  7. What can I do before my interview to help me prepare for this question?
  8. Is it okay to lie about my salary history?
  9. What are some polite ways of avoiding answering about my salary history?
  10. What if the employer is really persistent?
  11. Do employers have to report pay data to the public or any government agency?

1. Why do employers ask for your previous salary?

Employers tend to use your past salary to gauge your market value. It also gives them a sense of what salary you may be expecting.

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2. Are employers allowed to ask me about my salary history?

Yes, in most states and cities, but this is changing. New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh have laws prohibiting employer questions about salary history.  Massachusetts and New York City recently passed similar laws. The new laws are effective as of July 1, 2018 for Massachusetts and November 2017 for New York City. New York State has banned salary history questions in screening for state agency jobs. The New York state legislature is considering a similar ban for private employers in the state. California also has a statute stating that "Prior salary alone shall not, by itself, justify any disparity in compensation."

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, many other states are considering this type of legislation. These states currently include Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Washington.

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3. Do I have to answer questions about my previous salary?

No. Salary history is personal information that you may choose to withhold from your employer. However, while there is no legal obligation to disclose your previous salary, there is no way to be sure how a particular employer may react. Declining to disclose your previous salary could result in losing the job opportunity. 

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4. Why do many people choose not to disclose their previous salary?

Many people (especially minorities and women) choose not to disclose their previous salary because it may limit how much the company offers them for a new job. If a person is underpaid in a previous job, disclosing their previous salary to a new potential employer will likely result in being underpaid in their new job as well.

Basing salaries on a person's previous pay rate perpetuates the pay gap between men and women and minorities. As noted above, many states are moving towards banning salary history questions altogether.

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5. The job description doesn't contain a salary range. Should I inquire about the salary range before applying for the job?"

Employers are urged to provide this information in job postings. Asking for a salary range upfront can avoid wasting the company's time and yours and reminds a company that it is important to provide transparency of the fair market rate for the role that they are trying to fill.

A polite way to ask for salary range would be by saying:

  • "I want to be respectful of your time. Is there a specific salary range for this position?"
  • "I want to be respectful of your time. There is a specific salary range I'm looking for. Can we talk about that upfront?"
  • "If you don't mind me asking, what is the salary range for this role?"

Since it is still standard practice for many employers to not disclose a salary range up front, you may be met with resistance. There is no way to be sure of how a particular employer may react to this question. There is always a risk that it could result in losing the job opportunity. However, as more employers begin to realize the benefit of providing salary information up front, this will become less of a problem.

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6. How do I answer salary questions on job applications?

If it's not a required field on an online form, or if it is a physical form, leave it blank. If it is a required field on an online form, enter $0 or $1. It will be clear to employers that you do not want to answer the question.

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7. What can I do before my interview to help me prepare for this question?

Enter the interview with all the knowledge you can about the salary range for the position. Visit sites like Payscale.com, Glassdoor.com, Indeed.com, and Salary.com to get more information. The research will allow you to know in advance your desired salary range and allows you to be realistic in your expectations. You will also have a leg up in the interview if the employer seems to give a lower number than the fair market value for the position.

You can also ask for the compensation range of the position you applied for, before the interview process, during a phone screen, or e-mail exchange. Be prepared for this question to lead to being asked what your expectations are. You can respond by saying "The range sounds in line with my expectations."

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8. Is it okay to lie about my salary history?

No. You may be tempted to exaggerate during salary negotiations, but it would be in your best interest not to. Headhunters and human resources professionals are well versed in this area and can catch you in your lie. If you lie, you will lose credibility, lose the job you are applying for and damage your professional reputation.

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9. What are some polite ways of avoiding answering questions about my salary history?

  • "I prefer not to tell you my past salary because I'd like to have an honest, fair negation based on what I can do to make your business more successful."
  • "I'd be happy to talk about that at the appropriate time. Why don't you tell me more about …?"
  • "Before we get to that, let me make sure I'm even in your ballpark. What is the salary range for this position?"
  • "I'm not comfortable discussing salary at this stage. Perhaps we can do so when we meet in person?"
  • "My current employer does not allow me to discuss the terms of my employment."
  • "For a person with the skills and experience you want, I'd expect that this position would not pay less than 'X.' Correct?"

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10. What if the employer is really persistent?

If your potential employer asks many times, and none of the above answers are working for you, you can always decide to share your salary information. If you know your last job underpaid you from looking at your fair market value, don't hesitate to bring that up to your potential employer.

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11. Do employers have to report pay data to the public or any government agency?

To address some of the inequities in pay which leads to potential pay discrimination against women, racial, and ethnic minorities, a proposal for employers to include pay data on a report called the EEO-1 was finalized in 2016.

The EEO-1 is a form from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which employers with at least 100 employees and government contractors with at least 50 employees must fill out each year. In the form, employers are required to disclose the race-ethnicity, gender and job category of their employees.

The expanded EEO-1 form would require employers to categorize their employees by gender, race, type of work, and place them into one of twelve wage brackets. For example, if a company has 50 men of the same race, who do similar work for a similar amount of money, then they would be grouped together.

Although the EEO-1 is confidential and not accessible to the public, the information would be disclosed to government agencies responsible for monitoring workplace discrimination and allow companies to identify pay gaps to take internal corrective action.

However, on August 30, 2017, the White House Office of Management and Budget announced that the pay data reporting requirement is suspended indefinitely. It is now unclear whether this proposal will move forward or whether employers will be required to disclose pay data except as requested in a lawsuit or other pay dispute.

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© 2017 Workplace Fairness