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California Governor Signs Law Banning Salary History Inquiries

On October 12, 2017, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 168, prohibiting California employers from asking job applicants about their salary histories.

This new law thrusts California yet again into the forefront of jurisdictions tackling pay equity through local legislation. Although the new law does not specifically reference pay equity, the law’s authors justified the change as a means to eliminate pay gaps. The legislative commentary proclaims: “Gender wage discrimination is destructive not only for female workers but for our entire economy. Closing the wage gap starts with barring employers from asking questions about salary history so that previous salary discrimination is not perpetuated.”

Governor Brown had vetoed a similar bill two years ago, stating that he wanted to give the recently-amended Fair Pay Act a chance to work. The Fair Pay Act has since been amended two times in two years, and it appears that the legislature’s work is not done. Come January 1, 2018, California will join the ever-growing list of states (such as DelawareMassachusettsNew YorkPuerto Rico, and Oregon) and municipalities (New York CityPhiladelphia, and San Francisco) that restrict or ban employers from asking about a job applicant’s salary history.

Current California law prohibits pay discrimination, but it does not prohibit salary history inquiries. Under the California Fair Pay Act, prior salary, in and of itself, may not be used to justify any pay differential. AB 168 adds Section 432.3 to the California Labor Code, which will not only prohibit salary history inquiries but also prohibit  employers from relying on an applicant’s salary history as a factor in determining whether to offer employment or determining what salary to offer in most cases.

Employers will be prohibited from seeking salary history information (including compensation and benefits data) about an applicant, either personally or through an agent. An exception exists for salary history information that is disclosable to the public pursuant to federal or state disclosure laws such as the California Public Records Act and the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Further, upon reasonable request, employers must provide an applicant with the pay scale for the position being sought. The law does not define “pay scale.”

Although the law prohibits an employer from inquiring about an applicant’s salary history, an applicant may still, voluntarily and without prompting, disclose his or her salary history information to a prospective employer. In such an instance, although the employer may not consider that information in determining whether or not to hire the individual, the employer may consider or rely on that information in determining his or her salary. Still, employers may want to note that the strictures of California Labor Code Section section 1197.5 would still disallow prior salary, by itself, to justify any disparity in compensation.

As a result of this new development, all California employers may want to:

  • revise their employment applications to remove requests for salary history;

  • modify their screening and interview practices to eliminate questions about salary history;

  • train hiring managers about permissible compensation questions to ask during an interview, as well as how to respond to requests for pay scale information and voluntary disclosure of salary history by an applicant;

  • produce pay scale information to applicants upon reasonable request.

© 2020, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume VII, Number 288


About this Author

Lara de Leon, Ogletree Deakins Law Firm, Labor and Employment Attorney

Lara de Leon represents employers of all sizes in all aspects of employment law, including employment litigation and counseling.  She has extensive experience defending clients in federal and state courts, arbitrations and before administrative agencies, including actions alleging wage and hour, discrimination, harassment, disability, leave of absence, and wrongful termination claims.

In addition to litigation, Lara regularly advises, counsels and trains clients on a wide array of employment-related matters, such as terminations and reductions...

Christopher W. Olmsted, Ogletree Deakins, Employment Law Compliance Attorney, Retaliation Claims Lawyer,

Christopher Olmsted is a shareholder in the firm's San Diego office.

Mr. Olmsted helps businesses avoid employment-related legal claims by providing California employment law compliance advice. He also defends employers in a variety of litigation matters. Mr. Olmsted's employment law compliance and litigation experience includes: California FEHA and Title VII discrimination, harassment and retaliation claims; wrongful termination claims; wage and hour compliance and defense of claims and labor agency audits; California CFRA, federal FMLA and other leaves of absences; misappropriation of trade secrets, non-competition and non-disclosure agreements; California and federal ADA accommodation; gender pay equity audits and litigation; terminations, reductions in force and severance agreements; independent contractor misclassification claims; employment agreements and policies; labor Commissioner claims (Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Labor Standards Enforcement claims), EDD and Unemployment Insurance claims.