ANNAPOLIS — If women and minorities are historically paid less, one way to balance pay scales could be to take past salaries off the negotiating table.
Frederick County Delegate Karen Lewis Young, D-District 3A, is sponsoring a bill aimed at equaling pay for men, women and minorities. It would require companies with 15 or more employees to include salary information in job postings and narrow employers’ ability to ask applicants about their salary history.
“Closing the gap and ensuring equal pay is good for women, working families, the entire economy, and it leads to a more productive workforce, less turnover and stronger families,” Lewis Young said.
Lewis Young was joined by advocates — including representatives from the American Association of University Women, Maryland Legislative Agenda for Women and NAACP — who testified in favor of the bill on Tuesday before the House Economic Matters Committee.
“While stopping asking these kind of questions about salary history and making compensation more transparent won’t completely close the gap, it will certainly put us in the right direction,” Lewis Young said.
Lewis Young repeated the oft-cited U.S. Census Bureau statistic that women’s median incomes in the United States are 79 percent of the median incomes of men. But she and advocates said women are also statistically more likely to be paid less than men for the same work — even after controlling for variables such as industry, education and experience.
Delegate Diana M. Fennell, a Prince George’s County Democrat, lead co-sponsor of the legislation, said minority women are particularly disadvantaged.
By stopping employers from asking about an applicant’s salary history until a job and compensation offer is extended, the cycle of underpaying women and minorities could end, Lewis Young said.
Andrea Johnson, of the National Women’s Law Center, said that when employers screen applicants based on current salaries, several issues arise. The practice perpetuates past underpayment and could screen out people looking for a lower-paying job to make ends meet or those moving to the private sector from the public sector.
She said passing Lewis Young’s bill should be considered an urgent matter.
“It will ensure that people are evaluated and paid for their new job — not their old job,” Johnson said.
But business groups said the bill conflated efforts to promote equal pay with business negotiations.
A provision that requires employers to list the base salary — including information about how that figure is calculated — in job postings also attracted criticism.
Champe C. McCulloch, president of the Maryland chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America, said businesses don’t want their competitors to know about their internal workings. “I don’t want my competitors to know what my pay scales are. ... That only advantages my competitors,” McCulloch said.
Cailey Locklair Tolle from the Maryland Retailers Association said the bill doesn’t leave enough room for employers to consider factors important to them, including a prospective employee’s education, skill set and work history, when hiring.
“It really complicates the negotiation process. There really is no more negotiating process, as far as I’m concerned,” she said.
Committee Chairman Dereck E. Davis, D-Prince George’s, said that without a change in the law, employers have the complete upper hand to learn what a person currently earns and pay them according to that figure — even when it’s less than the company or industry standard.
Davis said he understood the business community’s concerns about publicly listing salaries, but the heart of the bill was simply stopping salary history inquiries.
Maryland’s bill comes as other states and cities have taken steps to limit salary history inquiries.
In August, a Massachusetts equal pay bill that will take effect in July 2018 included a provision on salary history inquiries.
In November, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order barring city agencies from asking salary history in the job application process, followed a couple of months later by a similar executive order from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, applying to state agencies. A bill to limit the inquiries more broadly is pending in the New York State Assembly and several other legislatures.
The state of California and the city of Philadelphia have also changed their laws to limit the impact of salary history on current pay.
At the federal level, D.C.’s delegate to the U.S. House, Eleanor Holmes Norton, introduced a bill last year that would have stopped salary history inquiries, but the measure stalled. No similar legislation is pending in the 115th Congress.