Are you worried about the threat posed by prior-salary-question-askers? Well then you can sleep soundly knowing that your California Legislature has tackled this thorny issue.

AB 1017, one of the bills sitting on the Governor’s desk from the last legislative session, would add language to the California Labor Code saying:

An employer shall not, orally or in writing, personally or through an agent, seek salary history information, including, but not limited to, compensation and benefits, about an applicant for employment.

Copyright: olegdudko / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: olegdudko / 123RF Stock Photo

Proponents of the measure say that such questions can continue the effects of past discrimination. But so can questions about job titles, job duties, and even where someone worked. Besides, it’s already illegal to pay someone less for substantially similar work and saying that their prior employer paid them comparably is not a defense.

On the other hand, asking about past compensation helps employers assess how prior employers valued the applicant’s contribution, whether an applicant’s salary expectations are realistic, whether the compensation the employer is offering is competitive, whether the applicant’s skills are valued in the marketplace, and whether the applicant has been successful in his or her prior jobs.

Many of us were taught it was rude to ask someone what they made. But no one ever said it was criminal! We’ll offer recommendations for employers if the bill becomes law.

Update (October 5, 2015): The bill still hasn’t been signed. But a proponent of the measure has shown me that a violation of the statute would not be a misdemeanor. I apologize for the error.

Further Update (October 12, 2015): VETOED!