So Long, Salary History Questions?

It’s a topic that has made many an interviewee squirm. When asked to discuss compensation history, it’s only natural for job candidates to worry about either pricing themselves out of the market or setting the salary bar too low.

Depending on what happens when Congress returns from summer recess, job candidates may never have to answer uncomfortable salary history-related questions again.

Late last week, a trio of lawmakers announced that they planned to introduce a bill that would prohibit employers from asking job applicants for their salary history before making a job or salary offer.

These legislators, however, have loftier aspirations than just making the interview process a little less awkward for job seekers.

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, along with Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), will introduce the bill, which “seeks to eliminate the wage gap that women and people of color often encounter,” according to a statement announcing the bill.

“Because many employers set wages based on an applicant’s previous salary, workers from historically disadvantaged groups often start out behind their white male counterparts in salary negotiations and never catch up.”

Ultimately, “the only way to make sure women and minorities will be treated equally is to remove the early biases that exist, both in hiring practices and salary negotiations, and our bill works to eliminate those obstacles by requiring employers to offer salaries based on the value of the work,” said Congressman Nadler, in the aforementioned statement. “Employers can and should hire good employees without taking into account prior pay history or condemning someone to depressed wages due to gender and racial inequity.”

The Washington Post calls the bill “the latest sign that efforts to dump the dreaded [salary history] question could be gaining momentum.”

In August, for example, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed an equal pay bill—passed unanimously by both of the state’s legislative branches—forbidding employers from asking about salary history until a job offer was extended.

Meanwhile, an amendment to California’s Fair Pay Act went into effect at the beginning of 2016 that would bar companies from basing compensation decisions on prior salaries alone, according to the Post.

Such recent examples aside, the new bill’s prospects for passage aren’t great, the paper notes, pointing out that bills attempting to legislate equal pay have been introduced in every Congress since 1997, to no avail.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the legislation is dead on arrival, as Fatima Goss Graves, senior vice president at the National Women’s Law Center, told the Post.

“People can see the connection of the deep unfairness of carrying past discrimination with you to job after job,” Graves told the paper, noting that the support the Massachusetts business community has shown since the state banned salary-related questions could have a mobilizing effect.

“When states show that something is possible,” says Graves, “that’s extremely reinforcing.”