Philadelphia Poised to Restrict Salary History Questions in Hiring Process

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

UPDATE: The US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has entered an order postponing enforcement of this law pending the outcome of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia's request for an injunction.

December 22, 2016

A new Philadelphia law would ban employers from asking job applicants about their salary history, subject to very limited exceptions. The Philadelphia City Council unanimously passed the Wage History Ordinance, which not only restricts salary history questions but also prohibits employers from conducting independent research to find an applicant's salary history.

Massachusetts and California have passed similar laws, but Philadelphia will become the first city in the nation with a so-called wage history law if the measure is signed by Mayor Jim Kenney as expected.

A spokesman for Mayor Kenney said, "The mayor looks forward to signing this bill, as we believe this will help narrow the wage gap by eliminating what is an implicit bias against lower-paid workers when employers ask for wage history." Once the ordinance is signed, it will take effect after 120 days, likely in April 2017.

The Philadelphia City Council took action based on statistics showing that Pennsylvania women are paid 79 cents for every dollar men make for performing similar work, while African-American women are paid 68 cents for every dollar men earn.

Unlike the Massachusetts law, the Philadelphia measure does not bar employees from asking about or discussing information about their own wages or the salaries of their co-workers.

However, the Philadelphia ordinance includes an anti-retaliation provision barring employers from taking adverse action against a job applicant or employee for refusing to answer a salary history question. It also provides a private right of action for prospective employees who feel they have been victimized.

The ordinance provides an exception allowing for wage history questions where a federal, state or local law specifically authorizes the verification of wage history for employment purposes.