Supporters of a Maryland bill that would bar employers from asking an applicant’s wage history say that the bill will level the playing field for women and people of color.
But businesses say the legislation puts another burden on employers, and they have concerns that business owners could be subject to penalties for making a misstep in the salary negotiation process.
Maryland House Bill 123 would require employers to offer a salary range, and bar them from asking an applicant for their wage history.
Tiffany Boiman, with the Montgomery County Commission on Women, said because women and people of color typically earn less than white men, the wage gap is perpetuated, even as an applicant moves on to a new, higher-paying job.
By barring an employer from asking about an applicant’s salary history, “We eliminate some of that structural inequity right off the bat,” Boiman said.
Boiman and other witnesses at the hearing on Tuesday before the House Economic Matters Committee were asked why a woman or person of color couldn’t just refuse to answer a question about salary history.
During the hearing, Del. Steven Arentz, R-Kent County, asked one panel why the law was needed. He said applicants could just refuse to answer questions on salary history.
“Why is it the businesses’ problem? Why can’t it just be as simple as that’s just not a question you answer?” Arentz said.
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Supporters of the bill cited a study that showed that when women refused to disclose their salary history, they ended up earning 1.8% less than women who did tell an employer what they were paid at their last job. But, when men refused to answer the same question, they were offered 1.2% more than men who did disclose their past earnings.
Boiman said the findings show how persistent biases can penalize women while rewarding men. “So, women can be seen as hard-charging or difficult, while men can be seen as assertive” when navigating the salary questions, she said.
Del. Christopher Adams, R-Caroline County, said he is concerned that the bill’s language is vague and could leave employers open to civil action. “That shouldn’t happen in a court. That needs to happen through the rationale of the legislative intent,” he said.
“This is my message to the committee: If this is going to be a bill that passes, find ways to have easy examples that are clearly defined,” so that employers have a clearly delineated path to compliance, Adams said.
Virginia is considering a similar measure.
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