Philly set to ban employers from asking applicants about pay history

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney intends to sign a measure prohibiting employers from asking job candidates about their salary history.(Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney intends to sign a measure prohibiting employers from asking job candidates about their salary history.(Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia is about to become the first city in the country to ban employers from asking job applicants about their previous salary, an effort that supporters hope will narrow the persistent pay gap between men and women.

Mayor Jim Kenney is expected to sign the bill into law on Monday. 

Kenney’s decision to move forward with the bill comes in the face of sharp resistance from some in the business community. That’s included threats to take the city to court over what has been characterized as an impingement of free speech and a bureaucratic hurdle to conducting business in Philadelphia.

The idea behind the bill is that women are paid less than men early on in their careers, and that difference continues when employers ask prospective hires for salary history.

Business leaders in Philadelphia, including Comcast Corp., have argued that the bill is anti-business and would restrict their First Amendment rights to ask could-be hires whatever they would like. Comcast officials have urged Kenney to veto the measure. But after the city’s law department studied the bill, Kenney said he has decided to sign.

“I’m not vetoing it,” Kenney said Thursday.

“We just wanted to make sure that all the legal aspects of it were tight before we signed it,” he said. “We may get sued, we may not. But Council passed this measure by a unanimous vote, and I see no reason why I shouldn’t sign it.”

Other supporters of the bill said prospective hires can still share salary history if they want to, but if an employer demands it, it can trigger a $2,000 fine per violation. A penalty, according to the bill, that would be levied by the Commission on Human Relations.

Women in Pennsylvania earn 79 cents for every dollar paid to men, according to 2015 Census Bureau statistics. That same difference is also reflected in nationwide figures.

Salary-history questions only serve to further that pay divide, according to the bill, which was introduced by Councilman Bill Greenlee.

The bill was patterned after a similar statewide effort in Massachusetts, which last year passed a law that barred employers from asking potential hires about salary history.

Critics are expecting the new Philadelphia law to be challenged in court. 

The law “could make the city liable for a substantial award of attorney’s fees,” Comcast attorney Miguel Estrada wrote to city officials.

Comcast senior executive vice president David Cohen told WHYY last week that many businesses are troubled by the measure.

“We’re hearing from companies that are thinking about locating — or at least being solicited to locate in the city — about why would we ever come here with what’s going on in the city?” Cohen said.

But Greenlee said the bill is a chance to address wage inequity.

“I think if you take a person’s salary off the table, given the history that women and minorities are paid less for the same job, we have a chance of cutting into this wage inequity issue,”  he said.

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