Job applicants too often face salary discrimination. This Maryland bill would help.

The Maryland State House in Annapolis. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

Last week, the Maryland General Assembly’s House Economic Matters Committee took a step toward protecting job applicants by holding a hearing on HB0123, “Labor and Employment – Wage History and Wage Range.” 

The bill marks a positive step forward in protecting job applicants, and if it were passed, it would be especially beneficial for marginalized groups — though it would need to go further to address similar issues students face.

If enacted, it would have two major effects. First, it would empower prospective employees during the application phase by requiring an employer — upon request — to provide the salary range for the applicant’s position. 

Second, and perhaps more importantly, it would protect applicants who got the job from unequal pay in a few key ways: Employers would be banned from requiring salary history from employees or their past employers, from punishing employees who don’t give their salary history and from relying upon salary history to set new salaries. In essence, the bill creates another layer of protection from salary discrimination.

Salary history and discrimination are unfortunately linked due to existing pay gaps. Today’s wage gap in Maryland would cost a woman $355,280 over a 40-year career when compared with a man. Disparities persist across races, too, meaning that non-white women generally lose out on more than white women. 

This means that salary history questions — especially allowing employers to set new salaries based on previous salaries — place women at a disadvantage. The bill going through the General Assembly would stop employers from requiring applicants to provide their salary history, mitigating this inequality. Plus, women face a 1.8 percent loss in their salary when they don’t answer salary history questions, as opposed to the 1.2 percent increase in salary that occurs when a man does answer. 

But pay gaps that contribute to salary discrimination are even more deeply embedded than we might think at first glance, and it affects college students, especially those about to enter full-time work. While the Maryland bill would address some major wage issues, the implications for how it could be extended to college students have gone unnoticed.

College students are set on pay trajectories from the moment they pick a major, with people in traditionally woman-dominated disciplines, such as humanities and social sciences, generally earning less after graduation than people in traditionally male-dominated disciplines, like finance and engineering. This can be partially due to valuative bias, when work done by women is valued less than work done by men. 

Students, and particularly women, who pick lower-paying fields are already at a loss in terms of entry-level salary. That’s probably compounded by unpaid internships, which are common in lower-paying fields. Further, paid interns are about twice as likely as unpaid interns to receive a job offer at the end of their internship.

If the proposed ban on salary history questions included questions about internships, then graduating seniors would be protected from salary discrimination, too. 

Students in lower-paying fields who had unpaid internships during their time in college would have a better chance of receiving a salary that’s actually based on their skills and knowledge. They’d be able to better negotiate their very first salary knowing that it wouldn’t affect their second, third and fourth salaries in the future, especially given the bill’s provisions that allow applicants to ask for the salary range, rather than just blindly accepting what salary is offered to them. College women, especially women of color, would have another layer of insulation from harmful pay gaps that generally persist once they’re started. 

The bill would help protect marginalized groups and reduce pay disparities, although it could go further and protect students as well. For the benefit of workers statewide, Maryland should join the 17 states and 20 localities that have already protected workers from issues that stem from salary history questions.

Serena Saunders is a senior public policy major and a graduate student in public policy. She can be reached at serena@sersaun.com.

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