If a Law Bars Asking Your Past Salary, Does It Help or Hurt?

“It seems like the general social impulse is, ‘We don’t like employers using particular information, so we’ll tell them they can’t use it any more and assume that’s the end of the conversation,’” said Jennifer Doleac, an economist at the University of Virginia. “But if they cared enough about it to ask it to begin with, they probably care about it enough to try to guess.”

.. (Alternatively, employers may try to get the information in slightly less direct ways, like asking candidates about their minimum salary expectation, Mr. Klein said.)

.. They typically allow job applicants to disclose their previous salary voluntarily. As a result, some employers may feel comfortable making lowball offers to women, because they assume applicants will speak up if they make significantly more than the employer’s offer. Those who don’t speak up will be deemed to have made less.

This could, in turn, leave women worse off than before, since they tend to be more reluctant to bargain than men, as a range of studies have documented.

.. By asking what the candidate currently makes and paying the same or slightly more, an employer may simply want to ensure that an offer is accepted and that the new hire is satisfied — but may be oblivious to the risk of perpetuating pay disparities.

When It’s Illegal to Ask, ‘How Much Do You Make?’

The question saves time if an applicant’s salary needs are out of line with what the employer can offer.

Banning discussion of salary history is wrongheaded, counterproductive and wasteful. The exchange of such information promotes transparency in the hiring process and helps manage candidates’ expectations. Most important, it saves recruiting time. If both an employer and prospective employee keep salary details hidden until the end of the interview process, an applicant’s salary requirements may turn out to be out of line with what the employer is prepared to offer—so the entire process was a waste of time.

.. When it comes to matching employees with employers, more information is always better. The more employers know about potential employees, and the more job seekers know about potential employers, the more likely there will be a successful match. Previous pay indicates employees’ value to their past employers. Often, pay is more telling than education or experience. For the same reason that potential employees should be able to ask the pay of positions they apply for, employers should also be able to ask potential hires about their previous pay.