MONMOUTH COUNTY - A new state law will now ban New Jersey employers from asking potential job applicants about their salary history - a controversial practice that critics say promotes unfairness in the workplace and perpetuates the gender wage gap.
“The gender wage gap can drag down anyone’s earnings, even if their employer doesn’t mean to discriminate at all,” said Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-Freehold), who sponsored the law in the State Assembly. “A single underpaying job can set a worker back permanently, draining thousands or even millions of dollars from potential paychecks in other positions.”
The original bill (A-1094) aimed to bring pay equity to Garden State workplaces by removing “salary history” questions from the job interview process altogether. In many cases, a salary offer from a new employer has historically been determined or influenced by an applicant's prior salary, rather than their experience or skills.
“When a female job seeker is forced to disclose her salary history in the course of applying for work, the existing gender pay gap means that her number will likely be lower than a male counterpart’s,” said Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling (D-Neptune), another sponsor of the bill. “That just pushes the employer - intentionally or not - to offer a lower wage, passing that history of discrimination forward.”
The new “Salary History” prohibits employers from screening job applicants based on their salary history, including prior wages, salaries or benefits. It’s also now illegal for an employer to require an applicant’s salary history to satisfy any minimum or maximum criteria.
The law includes a powerful enforcement measure, imposing hefty fines under the Law Against Discrimination up to $50,000 for violations of its provisions. Any employer who violates the bill’s provisions will be liable for a civil penalty up to $1,000 for the first violation, $5,000 for the second, and $10,000 for each subsequent violation. However, if the applicant is a member of a protected class defined by the Equal Pay Law - including women - an employer could also be liable to fines up to $10,000 for the first violation, $25,000 for the second violation, and $50,000 for each subsequent violation.
“Pay equity might be the law of the land in New Jersey, but we need a tool to properly enforce it,” said Downey. “The Law Against Discrimination gives us that tool.”
According to recent studies, women working full time, year-round, earn on average $10,800 less per year than a man. In the aggregate, women are paid less than 80 cents for every dollar a man makes, a disparity that can add up to nearly half a million dollars over the course of a career.
“By retirement, wage discrimination can cost a woman hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Houghtaling (D-Neptune). “This gap may be wide enough that she may never reach the same rung on the salary ladder as her male equal. That’s a lifetime of unfairness and harm done to her family, her children, and even retirement income like Social Security or a pension.”
Many families increasingly rely on women’s earnings to make ends meet. When women bring home a larger paycheck, that can also help families across the state pay for everyday expenses like groceries, rent, and childcare.
The “Salary History Law” is Downey and Houghtaling's latest achievement in their fight for better paychecks and lower costs for Monmouth County taxpayers. Their “Every Kid Counts” initiative won $55 million for extraordinary special education aid to New Jersey schools, reducing the burden on school districts and local property taxpayers.
A push by Houghtaling and Downey, along with State Senator Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch) to expand access to the Senior Tax Freeze, a property tax relief program for New Jersey’s seniors, also won millions of dollars in additional funding, even as the legislators’ successful “Vote For Vets” referendum expanded the veterans’ property tax deduction to thousands of additional veterans in continuing care retirement communities.
“Nobody should be paid less than they're worth,” said Downey. “As the mother of two young girls, I want to make sure that they’re paid for the value of their work - and not a cent less. With this new law, we're one step closer to making sure that if you work hard in New Jersey, you’ve earned a fair paycheck.”