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Westchester Bans Wage-History Questions

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Earlier this year, the Westchester County Board of Legislators enacted the Wage History Anti-Discrimination Law, which bans employers from asking job candidates about their salary histories. The likely effects of the legislation are wide-ranging, according to Matt Schwartz of MJS Executive Search in Scarsdale, who notes that the law strives for wage equality but has drawbacks, too.

“If we’re not allowed to ask about what someone is currently earning, then we could potentially be talking to them about a job that doesn’t pay what their expectations require,” Schwartz says. He adds that some HR professionals will likely find techniques to circumnavigate the proscription, including asking broader questions, like: “What are your compensation expectations?” or “What is the minimum you would need to be offered to accept this role?” According to Schwartz, this type of question does not violate the new law but does allow the candidate to provide a figure voluntarily. Violations of the new legislation can result in civil penalties of up to $125,000 for an unintentional violation and $250,000 for a malicious infraction.

The law — which passed by a 16-0 vote — is actually a supplement to the Westchester County Human Rights Act, and provides, according to Schwartz, “a new institutional mechanism to achieve greater gender and minority pay equity.” (New York currently has the narrowest gender wage gap of any US state, with women earning 89 cents to the dollar compared with men.)

Some industry experts feel that with the new Westchester law and the similar law that took effect in New York City in July, New York State is poised to enact statewide legislation in the near future. It would follow states such as Michigan and Wisconsin, which already have similar legislation in effect.

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