3 Ways to Deal If You're Illegally Asked For Your Salary History In An Interview


Woman in a job interview


Tiffany Lashai Curtis
Tiffany Lashai Curtis25

Among the many uncomfortable or downright illegal questions you could be asked during an interview are questions about your age, marital status, or religious background. And any interview question that pries into your personal life in a way that distracts from your actual job skills and experiences could mean that you are potentially being discriminated against.

Out of all of these questions, however, one that may come across as slightly mroe innocuous is "What is your current salary?" Many job applications inquire about your salary history, so technically there's nothing out of the ordinary with an interviewer doing the same, right? Wrong.

Being asked for your salary history has, in the past, felt like a lose-lose interview tactic. It's one that puts an interviewee into a metaphoricaly corner where they may feel they have no choice but to awkwardly evade the question, lie, or be upfront and risk being lowballed in a new job role. All of which are not only nerve-wracking options, but can also reinforce a cycle of pay disparities in the working world. Notably, the gender pay gap means that women are still making about $.80 to every white man's dollar, according to Institute For Women’s Policy and Research. Women of color are hit the hardest by this pay discrimination. And being forced to share prior pay intel with potential employers can make escaping the pay disparity cycle feel downright impossible.

Thankfully, certain cities and states like New York CityCalifornia, and Massachusetts are beginning to fight back against this mode of discrimination by banning employers from seeking information about a job candidate's salary history. But even with new laws being implemented, on occasion, the question of past salary can still come up — either intentionally by design or unwittingly by hiring managers. Interpreting it as a red flag and moving on to other employment opportunities is a simple — yet sometimes overly simplistic — way of reacting to getting this question. In this situation, what other options do you have? 

Deflect Or Redirect

Depending on how firm you want to be with an interviewer, you always have the option of relaying to your interviewer that you are not legally obligated to answer questions about your salary history. You can say something like “I am not an expert on employment law, but I don’t think I’m obliged to provide that information,” said Greg Szymanski director of human resources at Geonerco Management.

Or you can deflect by “asking in turn if the employer has a range in mind for the position,” said New York attorney Robert S. Herbst.

Research and know your worth

You may know that your job experiences and skills warrant a higher salary offer, but make sure that you have the evidence to back it up. This means being in the know about the salary averages within your industry. Them employ negotiation strategies like offering the highest end of a salary range as your financial bottom line and sharpen your negotiation tactics.

If a potential employer does in fact provide a salary range, according to Herbst, an applicant can state that they “are confident that they and the company would be able to come to a mutually successful arrangement and move on from there.”

File a report

Sometimes interviewers are overly persistent, despite an interviewees best attempts to deflect or redirect salary history inquiries. You may even be able to avoid salary history questions on a job application or in-person, or you may even have answered honestly as leverage in your negotiation; but you may still feel that a violation occurred.

If so, be sure to research whether or not your city or state has any laws against salary history inquiries and arm yourself with options.