In Philly, Salary History Now the New Don't Ask Don't Tell

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Earlier this month, Mayor Jim Kenney of Philadelphia signed a City ordinance prohibiting employers from asking job candidates about their salary histories.  City Council members and the Mayor say that this new measure is designed to ameliorate the disparity in pay between men and women doing the same job.  They point to statistics which indicate that women in Pennsylvania are paid $.79 for each dollar their male counterparts make for the same work.  Women, they say, are at a substantial disadvantage in salary negotiations due to, among other things, gaps in their professional careers due to child raising responsibilities.

Philadelphia's ordinance is roughly modeled after an existing statute enacted by the legislature of Massachusetts.  While strictly prohibiting employers from asking prospective employees about their salary history, employers remain free to ask job candidates about their salary expectations.  One could certainly see the cat and mouse game that would ensue as the hiring manager and the job candidate artfully dance around the subject in a highly choreographed discussion where the “s” word is only referred to in the future tense, both skillfully avoiding any historical reference.  Under the ordinance, job candidates are also free to offer information concerning their job salary histories if they so choose.  Although this new ordinance may not end wage discrimination in Philadelphia, because of the prospect of defending claims and the possibility of substantial penalties authorized in the ordinance, the negotiating balance of power between employer and prospective employee will likely tilt toward the prospective employee.

Because large cities are often the incubators for novel legislation like the ordinance discussed here; these ordinances or laws are often the harbingers of future state statutes.  As such, it is entirely possible that the Pennsylvania legislature may follow the lead of Massachusetts and the city of brotherly love in legislating employer/employee salary negotiations.  

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Harrisburg Magazine Readers' Choice 2011