In this article:
- Four states have passed equal pay legislation that includes some form of salary range disclosure requirement.
- The policy is meant to increase transparency in job listings so that applicants have more leverage when negotiating salaries.
- While companies are resisting the change, both job seekers and current workers will be able to use salary range disclosure laws to negotiate better salaries.
As Americans ramp up the pressure on federal and state governments to address this, some states are (slowly) starting to listen. One of the new laws proposed to help close the gender and race wage gap is a salary range disclosure requirement. Here’s what the new laws require and what that could mean for workers:
Salary Range Disclosure Requirements Gain Momentum at the State Level
To date, four states have passed equal pay legislation. Of those four, Colorado has passed the most stringent transparency requirements. Here’s a quick look at the new disclosure requirements in each state:
- Colorado: All job openings, including internal promotion or transfer opportunities, must have a salary range and a list of any benefits included in the description. For internal promotions, employers must announce the opening to all employees at the same time and before deciding who to promote.
- Washington: Employers must provide a pay scale if the applicant asks. When promoting or transferring a current employee, employers must disclose the salary range for that new position.
- California: Employers must provide a pay scale if an applicant who has had at least one interview asks. Public employers are required to report salary data to the state government, who makes this information public via Transparent California so that workers can compare their salaries to others in similar positions.
- Maryland: Employers must provide a pay scale to any applicant who asks and is prohibited from retaliating against the applicant by refusing to interview or hire them because they asked.
Another five states have similar wage transparency bills in state legislatures. The states with proposed transparency legislation are Virginia, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Indiana, and Connecticut.
None of them go as far as Colorado does in making the salary range part of the job description. But they do give applicants and employees the right to ask.
How Knowing the Salary Range Helps Job Seekers and Workers
The reasons recruiters give for not including salary data in their job postings fall far short of anything that could be classified as a reasonable concern. Some of the arguments include:
- If we reveal our compensation package, our competitors will offer better compensation to attract applicants (re: we’ll be forced to actually pay a wage that would make applicants want to work for us.)
- If we reveal our compensation package, we won’t know if a candidate would have been willing to settle for less (re: why should we pay what we think is a fair salary for the role if we could, instead, pay way less than that?)
- If we reveal our compensation package, our current employees might realize we’re paying them less than what we’re offering new applicants (re: we don’t want our workers to know that we know we should be paying them more.)
The addition of a salary range to that job posting might seem like a minor update but, for applicants and current employees, it’s a powerful tool for negotiation.
For job hunters, being able to see the salary clearly stated right in the job listing enables you to:
- Quickly scan for the jobs that are offering the salary you want.
- Be better informed during the salary negotiation process.
- Better estimate how much your skillset and experience level are worth.
- Stop wasting your time going to interviews for jobs that don’t pay enough.
For those who are currently employed, salary range disclosures enable you to:
- Better estimate how much your skillset and experience level are worth so that you can ask for a raise or start looking for a better employer.
- Find out what your company is offering for your position or one like it to see if you’re being underpaid.
- Be better informed when asking for a raise.
How and When to Negotiate Salary
Since the new legislation has only passed in four states so far, most of us are still stuck with the old system where employers keep salaries a secret and hope that applicants will take a lowball offer out of desperation.
So, how can you avoid being underpaid in a system where employers are not required to be more transparent about compensation? Here are a few tips for job seekers and employees:
As a Job Seeker
During the job hunt, it’s a tricky balancing act to talk about salary (and it really shouldn’t be). You worry about coming in too high, or worse, too low. You worry about asking too early because employers might think you’re “in it for the money” which is…accurate?
Here are a few things you can do to regain control of the salary conversation and make sure you don’t underbid yourself.
Research Salary Range Ahead of Time
Do your research and figure out as best you can what kind of salary makes sense for your experience and training. Sites like Transparent California can help you here if you live in California, but until transparency laws become more widespread, this will be difficult.
Try to talk to people in similar roles in your area to get a sense of what people are paid where you live. To the best of your ability, you want to go in armed with a salary range that makes sense and that actually pays you what you’re worth.
Ask About Salary Range Before the Interview
If you have good reason to believe the pay might be too low to even bother with an interview, be upfront and professional before you schedule the interview. You can say something like, “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but could you give me a sense of the salary range before we move forward?”
…But Only if You Suspect the Pay Will Be Too Low
If you think the employer will offer a reasonable salary or you just really want this exact job, hold off. Let the employer bring up salary. Then, when they ask you what your expectations are, flip the question back on them instead of answering. Say something like, “It would help if you could tell me what the approved budget for this role is.”
Do Not Disclose Your Previous Salary if You Don’t Have To
If the employer asks what you get paid now or in your previous job, understand that, as of this publishing, 19 states have banned employers from asking about your salary history.
If you’re not in one of those 19 states, or you are but the employer asks anyway, reframe the question as one about what salary you’re seeking. Say, “Well, I’m looking for something between $50,000-$60,000.”
The only reason they want to know your salary history is so they can estimate how much to offer you. So, reframing and answering in this way still allows them to make an estimate. If they push you on it, just politely state that you keep that information confidential.
If you see a salary history question on an application, simply leave it blank. If the application marks the field mandatory, write “0.”
Start Salary Negotiations Gently if You’re Uncertain
If the employer gives you a number and you’re unsure whether this is an opening for a negotiation or a hard offer, give a soft counter by saying something like, “I understand that you’re working within a budget, but given the responsibilities of this position, I was expecting something closer to $$$.”
This shows flexibility and gives you a chance to walk back on the number if you did accidentally outbid their budget.
Walk Away if You Can
We do not all have the privilege to walk away from an underpaid job. But if you have friends, family, or savings you can lean on, politely decline the offer if it’s lower than what you deserve.
Not only does this free you to look for something that pays what you’re worth, it also sets the bar for others after you. The more courage applicants show in the negotiation, the more employers will be pressured to increase their offer if they want to attract qualified employees. So, those in a position to do so, walk away.
If You Can’t Walk Away, Accept the Job and Keep Hunting
For those who are not in a position to walk away, don’t feel too defeated. Take the job, even though it’s underpaid, so you can have some money coming in. However, don’t stop applying to other positions. Eventually, you will find something that pays better. Just keep putting applications out there.
As an Employee
If you already have a job, the challenge is knowing when and how often to ask for a raise and how much to ask for.
For the 63% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, the threat of being fired in retaliation for asking for a raise or asking about coworkers’ salaries could be financially devastating. This can make many feel powerless to actually hold employers accountable. Here are some helpful tips.
Talk to Coworkers About Your Salary
Talk to coworkers about your salary. In all states, you have the right to talk openly about wages with your coworkers. Doing so can expose gender and race wage gaps in the payroll.
Once exposed, you will be able to report it to your state’s department of labor who will then be able to force your company to comply with the Equal Pay Act — which could lead to raises and, potentially, back pay.
If an employer is trying to stop you from talking about salaries, you can contact your local National Labor Relations Board for support.
Ask for a Raise Every Year
If your company doesn’t already provide regular raises, take the initiative to ask for one. If your boss wants you to take on more responsibilities, ask how the added workload will be compensated.
When negotiating a raise, do research and have a range in mind. Do it all politely and respectfully, but still do it. If you work for an employer who seems like they’d retaliate if you do this, take that as a sign that it’s time to start job hunting.
Report Illegal Behavior
Often, employers will post company policies (like banning salary discussions) or ask employees to sign waivers of their rights. Sometimes, the law allows employers to infringe upon employees’ rights like this, but more often, the employer is banking on the fact that employees might not know what rights they have.
If your company made you sign any waivers or has any company policies that seem suspiciously anti-worker or discriminatory, contact your state’s Department of Labor and find out if it’s legal. If it’s not, report them.
Many states allow you to file complaints anonymously or provide protections against employer retaliation.
On paper, forming a union isn’t difficult. In practice, though, employers will retaliate if they suspect unionizing activity (which is a good sign of how powerful a tool unions are for workers).
Keep the talks quiet for as long as you possibly can. Once employers catch wind of union talk, they will threaten and harass you and potentially even break the law in an effort to stop it. Before you start, reach out to existing unions like AFL-CIO, CWA, or SEIU for guidance and support. The NLRB can also provide guidance.