You’re in the middle of a phone interview and you’re having a fantastic conversation with the hiring manager. The dialogue is great and it seems like you’re headed for a face-to-face interview. “One more thing,” the hiring manager asks. “Can you tell me what your salary was at your last job?” As of September 29, according to Illinois state law, that is a question you are no longer obligated to answer. What should you do?
Understanding the Illinois Salary History Ban
On July 31, 2019, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law House Bill 834 which strengthens the Illinois Equal Pay Act of 2003 by prohibiting employers from inquiring about a job applicant’s salary history. The law became effective on September 29, 2019. At least 18 other states have similar laws.
This new law prohibits employers from screening job applicants based on their current or prior salary. Employers cannot request or require that applicants disclose information about their salary history as a condition of being interviewed, considered for employment, or offered employment. Employers are also prohibited from asking for salary history information from an applicant’s former employer. The law does not apply if the applicant’s salary history is a matter of public record or if the applicant is one of the employer’s current employees.
Finally, the amendment also prohibits employers from factoring salary history information into compensation or hiring decisions even if an applicant provides the information voluntarily without prompting.
The penalty for employers who violate this new law can be steep. Employers could be looking at a combination of (1) up to $10,000 in special damages; (2) compensatory damages, to the extent they exceed an award of special damages; and (3) reimbursement of the plaintiff’s costs and attorneys’ fees.
The new law is aimed at pay equity. Salary history questions are a major contributing factor in both racial and gender wage gaps. When a potential employer asks for past wages, it allows previous pay inequity to continue, impacting future wages and earning potential.
What Does this Law Mean for Job Seekers?
According to Crain’s Chicago Business, questions about salary history are extremely common. A recent survey showed that of 15,000 people currently evaluating job offers, 43 percent had been asked for salary history during the interview process. Employers now need to change their interviewing and screening practices to eliminate these questions.
Keep in mind that employers and employment agencies may not:
- Screen applicants based on their current or prior wage or salary history, including benefits or other compensation
- Request or require an applicant to disclose his/her current or prior salary, wage or benefit history as a condition of being considered for a job
- Rely on an applicant's salary or wage history to determine whether to make a job offer or what to offer
- Ask former employer questions about the applicant’s current or prior salary, wage or benefit history
- Retaliate against an applicant who fails to respond to an unlawful inquiry about his/her current or prior salary, wage or benefits
You may be asking yourself “How do I make sure I’m not wasting time interviewing for a job that is nowhere near the salary or pay rate that I’m looking for?” Great question! Neither the employer nor you, the job seeker wants to waste time on interviews when there isn’t alignment on salary.
Transparency is critical! Companies/recruiters should start by listing the salary range for the position, and candidates should state their expectations and salary goals/requirements right from the start.
If you’re a job seeker:
- Do your research: check for posted salary/rate ranges
- Ask for a range if none is listed
- Be forthcoming about your desired salary expectations up front
What to Do if an Interviewer Asks About Your Salary History
The legal approach a company/recruiter should take in discussing compensation is: “As you’re considering new opportunities, what is your DESIRED salary or hourly rate?”
Most employers should be aware of the new law and they should be taking it seriously. You may, however, encounter a hiring manager or recruiter who is not yet aware or educated. In that case you should first acknowledge their question and then handle it with a little deflection and a lot of tact. Some suggestions:
- “I would like to learn more about what's entailed with this job so I can give a good answer.”
- “This position differs from my last job. I’d like to discuss what my responsibilities would be here and then determine a fair salary for this job.”
- “I’d appreciate it if you could make an offer based on whatever you have budgeted for this position, and we can go from there.”
- “Based on my experience and research of positions with a similar level of responsibility and scope in [city/region], I’m seeking a salary/hourly rate of [range].”
- “My previous salary was below market value, so based on my skill set, experience, and research about this position, I’m seeking [salary/hourly rate range].”
- “I’m happy to discuss my desired salary/hourly rate based upon my qualifications for the position”
As you navigate today’s job market it’s important to be informed. Know your worth and go into conversations with confidence. Please let us know if you have any questions, experiences, or ideas on how to manage this issue during interview conversations.
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