Businesses’ reaction mixed so far on salary history bill

House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst introduced a bill, sponsored by all 13 female legislators, that would ban employers from asking candidates about their salary history. Its supporters have pitched the law as a step toward closing the wage gap between men and women in the state, which one measure places at 89 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

Longhurst, a Democrat from Bear, said that removing salary history from the interview process gives women, as well as Latinos and African Americans, a chance to set the bar higher and put past wage discrimination behind them.

“To me, it’s something that is eventually going to become a standard,” Longhurst said. “I’m just pushing the envelope a little quicker and faster.”

How are Delaware employers responding to the push? So far, reactions have been mixed. Some feel the law is an intrusion into an employer’s private right, and indeed a necessary part of the hiring process. Others embrace the measure.

Many companies have different policies on asking about salary history to begin with.

“It’s about a 50-50 split,” said James DeChene, head of government affairs for the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, which has nearly 2,800 member businesses “There was really no rhyme or reason to why they did or didn’t. It was just the policies and practices that got put in.”

None of the state’s largest employers, meanwhile, have come out against the bill.

“I’m not really getting a lot of pushback,” said Longhurst, who has reached out to businesses across the state. “The only opposition that I’m feeling right now is from the Delaware State Chamber. They understand that a lot of their people are split.”

Delaware isn’t the first state to try and tackle wage inequality by barring questions about salary history. Massachusetts passed a law in 2016. Philadelphia became the first municipality to pass a local ordinance banning the practice in early 2017. And New York City passed a law earlier this month.

In Philadelphia, at least, the backlash was immediate. Comcast Corp., one of the city’s largest employers, sent a memo to Mayor Jim Kenney threatening legal action and urging him to veto the ordinance. In early April, the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia filed a suit claiming the ordinance violates the First Amendment.

In addition, the Pennsylvania State Senate has a bill pending that would override the law and block similar measures elsewhere in the state.

“From the start, you’re seeing a more friendly environment in Delaware than you have in Pennsylvania,” said Tim Holly, attorney for the Wilmington-based firm Connolly Gallagher LLP with a focus on employment law. “I’d be surprised if you saw the Delaware State Chamber respond as aggressively.”

Holly explained that part of the reason is optics: Delaware companies may not speak out against the bill because they want to be seen as aligned with a bill that many see as socially conscious. Comcast, on the other hand, had no such qualms.

“Whether you agree or disagree with the spirit of the law, Comcast was pretty bold to publicly oppose something that was billed as a pro-women employee agenda,” Holly said.

Robert Prybutok, president of the Newark-based Polymer Technologies Inc. and a member of the Chamber, said that opposing the bill doesn’t mean you oppose pay equality. He argues that knowing a candidate’s salary history is crucial to hiring the right employee.

“Part of your evaluation of the employee’s capabilities is their prior salary in a similar position,” he said. “That’s sometimes valuable information for the employer to understand.”
He added that salary information is even more important for executive hires, who may have more leverage in negotiating pay.

“There’s a contingent of employers who find it unfairly restrictive in their ability to run their business,” Holly said. At the same time, he adds, “reasonable minds will disagree as to whether it’s fair to ask [potential employees] this very personal and arguably invasive question about how much they made at their last job.”

Longhurst doesn’t buy the argument that employers need that information.

“I really find that a little lame, because when you’re hiring somebody you know what your budget is and you know what qualifications you are looking for,” she said.

The bill still has a long road ahead, though, and the business community may still take a stronger stance.

“It’s entirely possible that, even though I polled a couple dozen companies, that may for some reason not be a true indicator of the Chamber’s position,” DeChene said.

If the bill passes, it will take several months to implement.

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