Should Kansas City ban prospective employers from asking about your salary history?

6 things to do when negotiating your salary

Whether you're being hired or already have a job, at some point you're going to be in a salary negotiation situation. Take these steps for better negotiating.
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Whether you're being hired or already have a job, at some point you're going to be in a salary negotiation situation. Take these steps for better negotiating.

Kansas City may soon join a growing list of cities and states that prohibit the use of salary history when employers make hiring and pay decisions.

On Thursday, the City Council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will discuss an ordinance that would ban employers from asking applicants about their salaries. It would prohibit businesses from screening applicants based on prior or current salaries, or punishing applicants who won’t disclose salary information.

It’s an intriguing and important ordinance. The measure is aimed primarily at protecting women, who continue to earn less than men, on average. City Councilman Scott Wagner, the sponsor of the ordinance, says women who leave the workforce are particularly vulnerable to lower salary offers when they resume their careers.

“When (women) are out of job circulation, for family or whatever reason, and they come back in, they’re punished when they talk about their salary history,” he said.

The ban would not apply to promotions or transfers, or wages established through collective bargaining. If it passes, though, employers couldn’t ask how much you made in your other jobs, or use a prior or current salary to decide whether you should be hired, or how much you should be paid in the new job.

“The idea is to level that playing field,” Wagner said. “Now you’re negotiating more on what the job is, what your skill set is, what you’re bringing to the table.”

The councilman compared the ordinance to so-called “ban the box” laws here and in other places. Those laws prohibit employers from asking about prior criminal convictions when taking applications for jobs.

Kansas City has already removed salary history from applications for city positions. Wagner’s plan extends that idea to all employers.

Similar policies have been implemented across the country. California has enacted a ban on salary history questions, as have Connecticut, Delaware, Oregon and Hawaii. Other cities and states have enacted limited bans for some companies or for public agencies.

“Using salary histories, which may have been tainted by bias, means that discriminatory pay follows workers wherever they go, whatever their job, no matter their abilities,” says the American Association of University Women.

Discrimination against women in the workplace remains a pervasive problem. In Kansas City, the gender pay gap is almost 22%, one of the worst wage divides among major cities. The ordinance could be a step toward pay equity.

But it could also help men seeking jobs. Employers should not require workers to disclose prior wages as a way to suppress salaries. If a job is available, applicants should be able to negotiate fairly for the position, on the merits.

Critics of Wagner’s plan say it might prompt lawsuits and make businesses less willing to hire.

While the proposal could still be tweaked or amended, the basic concept is sound: Workers should be compensated based on their abilities and qualifications — not on what their last employer paid.