Compensation Issues |
October 26, 2021

California Salary Questions: What Employers Can and Can’t Ask

California has always been a leader in employment rights. Recently, new laws have expanded protections for employees, extending to such issues as gender identity expression and natural hairstyles. A California law also protects job applicants from being forced to disclose their salary history to prospective employers. This is an important step toward remedying systemic pay disparities experienced mainly by female employees.  Learn more about how the experienced California employment lawyers at Minnis & Smallets use this new law to fight pay disparities in the workplace. 

The California Law About Salary History

On January 1, 2018, a new law took effect to prevent employers from asking job applicants about their salary history. This law was enacted to remedy the gender wage gap and other pay disparities. Often, an employer uses a former salary to justify a current salary, and this can continue a vicious cycle of pay disparity. The new law helps job applicants to be assessed on their individual merits – not the systemic pay discrimination they have faced in the past.

What a Prospective Employer Can Ask

Though an employer cannot ask about an applicant’s prior wage history, they can ask about other factors that are relevant to the position. This includes: 

  • Merit
  • Seniority
  • The quantity or quality of prior work production
  • Education
  • Training
  • Experience

There are many factors that are relevant to the question of pay. Salary history is not one that a prospective employer may rely on without other justification. An applicant may, however, choose to use their salary history strategically in the application process. 

What a Prospective Employee Can Ask

Though a prospective employer may not ask about salary history, the applicant may choose to disclose it voluntarily. There are strategic reasons to do so. If, for example, a prior salary was more than is being offered, the applicant might use this fact to negotiate a higher starting salary. This is entirely at the applicant’s discretion. It can be a risky maneuver in a delicate process, so it is important for applicants to get legal advice from an experienced labor lawyer before deciding whether to voluntarily disclose their salary histories to a prospective employer. 

A job applicant may also ask for a salary range. Though employers are not required to advertise a salary range, they must provide one if asked. This, too, can be used strategically in the process of negotiating a starting salary. Both a salary range and prior salary history can reflect prior pay discrimination. It is helpful for job applicants to get an independent assessment of all terms of employment (including starting pay) from their own employment lawyer before agreeing to accept a position. 

Experienced California Employment Lawyers For All Salary Issues

Minnis & Smallets is a California employment law firm that protects workers’ rights under all new California employment laws. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with an experienced California employment law attorney. By fighting individual instances of pay discrimination, employees across California can experience more fairness in the process of salary negotiations.