Don’t Ask Me About My Salary History

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“Employers should be hiring and paying potential employees for the experience and qualifications they have.”

New Jersey Senator Loretta Weinberg, discussing a recently passed wage equity law that bans employers in her state from asking prospective employees about their salary history

“How much did you make in your last job?”

When an employer asked me this question during a job interview early in my career, I paused. I didn’t want to lie, but my last job barely paid above minimum wage, and I was hoping to earn much more than that in a new position.

Why did my past income even matter? I thought.

Still, I told the truth. When I received a lower offer than I expected, I wondered whether I should have been so honest.

[Read more: Should you tell the world how much you make?]

Now asking job seekers about their salary history during employment interviews is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Massachusetts became the first state to ban employers from posing this question to job candidates back in 2016. Since then, 17 other states and as many local jurisdictions have passed versions of the ban, including New Jersey, whose law will go into effect in January; Illinois, which took effect last month; and Kansas City, Mo., where a ban will go into effect next week.

Why does this matter?

The new laws are designed to protect job seekers — like former me — from receiving starting salaries that are tied to low past salaries. This is mostly aimed at women, and many of the bills directly address equal pay and the gender wage gap. The idea is that if a woman is paid less from the get-go, and then limited by her past salary at each subsequent job, it may be impossible for her to catch up.

[Read more: How a Common Interview Question Hurts Women]

“This bill provides a means of narrowing the wage gap by making it less likely for employers to unintentionally perpetuate the gap by basing salary offers for new hires on their previous salary,” New Jersey Assemblywoman Joann Downey said of her state’s bill, which she sponsored. She added that the practice had a disproportionate effect on women.

Is the ban active in my state?

HR Dive, a human resources news and analysis site, keeps a list of state and local governments that have salary history bans on the docket. (You can check the status of your state or locality here.) also has a list of state and local bans.

Some states have passed bans that won’t go into effect until 2020 or later. For example, Colorado signed the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act into law earlier this year, but it won’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2021.

Each bill is also a little different. While Alabama’s law doesn’t ban the question outright, it does prohibit employers from refusing to “interview, hire, promote, or employ” any job applicant who declines to answer. In California, not only is the question banned, but employers are also required to answer if an applicant asks about a pay range. Other versions may ban not only employers’ questions about compensation history but also those about benefits like a 401(k).

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What do I do if they ask anyway?

The new laws may prove difficult to enforce. Even if they’re not permitted to, hiring managers might ask you about your past salary anyway. If this happens, negotiation experts recommend diplomatically deflecting the question with a response like, “My desired salary is more in line with market research and the details of what this current job entails,” or “I’d be happy to talk more about salary once an offer is in place.”

Kristin Wong is the author of “Get Money: Live the Life You Want, Not Just the Life You Can Afford.”

What else is happening

Here are five articles from The Times you might have missed.

“I’m 61 years old. I can’t sit in cars waiting for people to come out of buildings.” In her 30 years as a private eye, Marie Schembri’s sleuth trade has gone from disguises to digging up data. [Read the story]

“Why do you not make girl army men, my friend’s mom is in the army too!!” A letter written by a 6-year-old prompted one toymaker to develop, for the first time, a pack of the classic toy soldiers designed to be women. [Read the story]

“Women worry that they will be considered ‘past it’ or sidelined if they speak up about their symptoms.” Channel 4, a national television station in Britain, announced that it would offer its female employees flexible working arrangements, tailored work spaces and even paid leave if they experienced menopause symptoms. [Read the story]

“I certainly didn’t set out to be the poster person for women’s sexuality over 40.” In her recent roles, Kathryn Hahn has been boldly exploring the intricacies — and comedy — of female desire. [Read the story]

“The underrepresentation of women is perhaps nowhere as visible as in central banks.” Female economists are less likely to be promoted or have their economic research published by central banks — and their careers are more likely than men’s to suffer when they become parents. [Read the story]

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From the archives, 1901: “Don’t try it.”

One hundred and 18 years ago this week, Anna Edson Taylor became the first person to survive a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Yes, a barrel.

As The Times wrote in 1901, “It was beyond any conception but her own that she would live to tell the story.”

And yet she did. Thousands of people gathered to witness her plunge, which took less than an hour from start to finish (and less than a minute to go over the falls!).

Afterward, Ms. Taylor, a schoolteacher, had one piece of advice for the public: “Don’t try it.” — Sharon Attia

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