By Katie Robinson, ESS Corporate Counsel
On January 1, 2019, a change in Connecticut employment law came into effect that prohibits any employer within the state from asking prospective employees about their wage or salary history. Connecticut is now one of seven states that forbid salary history inquiries by private employers during the pre-employment process.1 Another handful of states, such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, have similar laws that only apply to public employers or state entities. Michigan and Wisconsin, on the other hand, have taken the opposite approach and instead have passed laws to prevent their local governments from enacting legislation regulating employers’ ability to collect salary history information.2 Wisconsin’s law even goes as far as to explicitly grant employers the right to solicit salary history information from prospective employees.3
The consistently cited purpose for enacting this type of legislation is to support the effort to close the wage gap that has historically existed between male and female employees. Connecticut officials are hopeful that this law will aid in their mission to end the continuous cycle of wage discrimination, which they believe is perpetuated by the practice of asking prospective employees about their salary history.4 Connecticut has a particularly large wage gap, as women reportedly earn an average of only 82 cents for every dollar paid to men.
In response to these findings, Connecticut lawmakers strengthened the state’s employment laws to prohibit employers from inquiring about an applicant’s wage and salary history and from directing any third party, such as a background screening company, from doing so.5 This provision was added to supplement the anti-wage discrimination guidelines that were issued in 2015, which clarified the rights of employees to disclose or discuss wages with co-workers and to inquire about the wages of other employees. The new provision does not apply if the applicant has voluntarily disclosed the information or if there is a federal or state law that specifically authorizes the disclosure or verification of the applicant’s salary history.
The failure to adhere to this law’s new provision could lead to notable consequences for the employer, as the statute provides an explicit private cause of action for any harmed prospective employee and allows for the recovery of compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees and costs, and any other legal and or equitable relief that a court deems “just and proper.” Considering the potential severity of these penalties, Connecticut employers may wish to start off this new year by reviewing their existing pre-employment procedures to ensure that they do not run afoul of the new standards.
1The additional six states include California, Delaware, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, and Hawaii. New York City also bans salary history inquiry.
2Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 123.1384
3Wis. Stat. Ann. § 103.36
5C.G.S.A. § 31-40z