Employers Cannot Ask about Salary History

Changes to Washington’s Equal Pay and Opportunities Act will add additional protections for employees and job applicants. The updated law that takes effect on July 28 bars employers from requesting a job applicant’s wage or salary history, except under certain circumstances.

The law also makes it illegal, in most cases, for employers to request wage or salary history from a previous employer before offering an applicant a job and negotiating salary.

Washington is the third West Coast state to pass legislation prohibiting such inquiries, joining California and Oregon.

“Washington is consistently ranked a top state to work and to do business,” Governor Jay Inslee said. “Our commitment to ensuring prosperity is shared by everyone is key to that success. Yet, for too long, wage disparities have continued between individuals doing equal work. The protections established in this law are the next step toward finally leveling the playing field.”

Equal pay for equal work

Under the changes, current employees who are offered an internal transfer, a new position or a promotion must be shown the new job’s wage scale or salary range if they request it.

If no wage scale or salary range exists, the employer must show the employee “the minimum wage or salary expectation” that was set before the job was posted or a transfer or promotion was offered.

Employers must also show job applicants the minimum wage or salary of the position they are applying for if they request it after being offered the position.

The ban on requesting salary history applies to all Washington employers, regardless of size. The requirement to disclose salary information to certain applicants and employees applies only to Washington employers with 15 or more workers.

“A gender pay gap is simply unacceptable; people should expect equal pay for equal work,” said L&I Director Joel Sacks. “Employees and job applicants will now have access to more information about how much jobs pay, and greater protections to make sure they’re being paid fairly.”

The Washington State Legislature updated the state’s pay equity law in 2018 with passage of the Equal Pay and Opportunities Act that prohibits gender pay discrimination and promotes fairness among workers by addressing business practices that contribute to gender pay gaps. The most recent updates were passed during the 2019 session.

Rights for both current employees and job applicants

If employees or job applicants believe their rights have been violated, they can file a complaint with the state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I).

Employees can file a complaint if their current or former employer has:

  • Provided them with unequal compensation compared to other employees who are similarly employed, based on gender.
  • Limited or denied their career advancement opportunities, based on gender.
  • Prohibited them from discussing wages.
  • Not provided wage or salary information for a new position upon request.
  • Retaliated against them for filing a complaint or exercising protected rights under the Equal Pay and Opportunities Act.

Job applicants can file a complaint if an employer has:

  • Sought their wage or salary history.
  • Required that their wage or salary history meet certain criteria — such as requiring a minimum salary amount in a previous position to apply for a new position.
  • Not provided minimum wage or salary information upon request for a position offered to them.

L&I recommends that Washington employers review job applications and other hiring documentation to confirm that any requests for or references to job applicants’ salary history are removed. Employers should also ensure they can provide specific information about the minimum wages or salaries, or wage scales or salary ranges to applicants and employees upon request. 

To file a complaint, go to Lni.wa.gov/EqualPay. For more information, contact L&I’s Employment Standards Program at 1-866-219-7321.