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House committee considers wage history bill once more

“What upsets me about this legislation the most is its tone,” lobbyist Bruce Bereano said. “It indicts businesses.”

‘What upsets me about this legislation the most is its tone,’ lobbyist Bruce Bereano said. ‘It indicts businesses.’ (File photo)

For the third year in a row, activists, attorneys and business groups met Tuesday afternoon at the House Economic Matters Committee in Annapolis to consider a bill that would prohibit employers from asking job applicants about their salary history.

House Bill 634, titled Wage History and Wage Range, would require employers with 15 or more employees to include salary information in job announcements and prohibit certain employers from seeking salary history information from prospective employees during the interview process and when considering raises and promotions for current employees.

The bill, which passed the House of Delegates over the past two years but failed to get out of the Senate Finance Committee both times, seeks to make sure that the hiring and salary negotiation process focuses on an applicant’s experience and skills, not on “what they did in a past life,” bill sponsor Del. Karen Young, D-Frederick, told the committee.

“That is not relevant to the position you are currently applying for,” Young said of questions regarding previous salaries.

Bill advocates said the practice of asking for a job applicant’s wage history can be disproportionately harmful to women and minorities, groups that are often in lower-paying jobs and that wind up experiencing a phenomenon called “compression,” in which one or more poorly paid jobs set the salary bar lower for subsequent positions.

“If an applicant’s prior employer discriminated against her by setting pay lower or she worked in a female-dominated profession … that pay discrimination will follow her,” said Sarah David Heydemann of the National Women’s Law Center.

As in past years, the bill was met with fierce opposition from business groups, which said the bill’s penalties would be onerous for small-business owners and further complicate discussions between employers and job applicants.

“What upsets me about this legislation the most is its tone,” lobbyist Bruce Bereano said. “It indicts businesses.”

While corporations such as Amazon and Starbucks have adopted a policy of not asking about wage history, the practice does not work for all businesses, bill opponents said.

“I think the bill does not take into account the hiring practices of small business,” said Mike O’Halloran, Maryland state director for the National Federation of Independent Business.

This year’s bill scales back the penalty provision.

In last year’s version of the bill, an employee or applicant could seek injunctive relief and actual damages, as well as additional liquidated damages and special damages of up to $10,000. Under this year’s version, the applicant could seek injunctive relief and recover either actual damages or special damages for no more than $10,000.

As in the previous iterations of the bill, an employer who interferes with the Commissioner of Labor and Industry’s enforcement of the bill could be subject to a fine of up to $300. The commissioner also has the option of imposing a civil penalty of up to $1,000 per applicant or employee and $5,000 per applicant or employee for an employer’s second violation within three years. The penalty would depend on the gravity of the violation and the size of the business, among other factors.

Committee members said they planned to tinker with the penalty provisions of the bill.

“I think that this bill needs some work,” said Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery, who otherwise expressed support for the bill on Tuesday.


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