Gone are the days of circling ads in the paper, sending in a paper resume through snail mail, and refusing to let anyone use your landline for a week, because you’re waiting for a call-back about a job. No longer can you rely solely on your qualifications, experience, and education to land you your dream job. Now employers want your private life served up elegantly next to your professional one. They still ask about your qualifications, your past experience, and your education, but they also want your internet habits, your privacy, and they want to know how much you’ve been paid. Don’t think that’s a problem? Think again.
An employer asking for your salary history seems innocent enough at first glance. They just want to know what sort of pay you’re accustomed to, and may want to compare the wages they intend to pay, against the wages that other companies are paying for virtually the same job. But the entire concept of wage history is a whole lot more “snake in the grass” than you may have originally believed. It’s a legal gateway for companies to give you a big, fat fucking, and in a few different ways.
We can argue about this until the cows come home if you’d like, (I’m a southern woman. Arguing is my first love.) but the fact of the matter remains that, statistically speaking, women are paid less than men for comparable jobs and hours put in. It’s a load of bullshit, it’s unfair, it’s gender discrimination, and under The Equal Pay Act of 1963, it’s fucking illegal. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t still happen.
Though it’s an improvement from the 80s, when women only made 67 cents on each dollar that a man made, women still only make roughly 83% of what a man does for a comparable job. Full-time employees working year-round sink to 80%. That number goes up to around 90% for women between the ages of 25 and 34, meaning that young women and older women are getting a bigger screwing than the lucky ones in the middle. But either way, even 90% pay equality is a far cry from equal.
“When you cut through the bullshit, it’s a form of discrimination no matter which way you look at it.”
Companies have a tendency to use salary history as a nice, cushiony excuse to keep it that way. If, as a woman, you come into an interview as a potential hire and your wage history indicates that you’ve been paid 30% less than their male employees for the same job, then they’ve just landed on a golden ticket of an excuse to keep you at 30% less than your fellow male employees. After all, that’s what you made at the last place, right? By requesting your salary history, companies are able to ensure that women remain at the same historical disadvantage in the future that they had in the past.
So maybe you’re not a woman and this particular downfall of wage history doesn’t affect you, or perhaps you just don’t care. That’s cool, too. But don’t put your nose up and assume you’re out of the woods just yet. Salary history is a tool in their pocket for more than just screwing women out of equal pay. They can screw you out of deserved pay as well. If you were underpaid for your services in your last few jobs, employers have an opportunity to underpay you yet again. As long as companies continue to require your past salary, they will continue to pay you at that rate. Meaning, you could lose out on a $70,000 annual salary, simply because you’ve consistently been making a $40,000 annual salary for the same job.
That concept works the other way around as well. If they’re hiring for a position that only pays $40,000, and your wage history is in the $70,000 range, they’re not even going to consider your application, because you’re too damn expensive for them. So that means, even if you got canned from that $70,000 job, and you’re looking to take virtually anything before you end up on the streets eating that infamous Ramen, you’re not going to get that job. Unfortunately, your wage history makes your expectations look far too high.
The good news is, slowly but surely, salary history requirements are becoming as illegal as asking if you plan to have a baby – at least when it comes to hiring decisions and application processes. When you cut through the bullshit, it’s a form of discrimination no matter which way you look at it.
The biggest argument is generally that wage history requirements are the only way to gauge if a potential hire is within your budget. To that I say – quit being so lazy. It’s just as simple to request salary expectations as it is to require salary history. And by those measures, the guy that’s looking for a job under his previous salary isn’t automatically canned because he’s made too much in the past, and a woman isn’t automatically given a 30% pay cut, just because that’s what history has paid her.
While a few states, such as Massachusetts, Delaware, and California are hopping on the wagon to make wage history requirements illegal, it certainly hasn’t made it to the national level yet, and chances are, if you’re one of the millions in search of a job in America, you’re going to be asked about it. So how do you keep yourself safe from the discrimination of salary history?
You can always refuse to list your history on your application, but we all know, chances are you won’t even land an interview. Thebalance.com suggest to keep it honest, but keep it vague. It’s certainly not advisable to lie, because potential employers can find out the truth with as much as a quick phone call. The last thing you want is to be caught lying on an application when you really need a job. Instead, give them a ballpark range, or tell them that your salary was flexible. This may help give you a bit of negotiation room. Also, keep yourself up to date on the laws of salary history requirements in your area. If you happen to be in one of the lucky states that have banned the question, don’t fork over the information. And above all else, cross your fingers that the rest of America will pull their heads out of their asses and stop giving businesses and companies a free pass to get all up in your business.
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Andrea is a freelance writer based out of Kentucky. She is the mother to a 3 year old little girl and step-mother to a 6 year old boy. She’s been married to her husband and best friend for 5 years. She enjoys fishing, camping, hiking and the occasional glass of wine by a bonfire.