Can you ask about the salary history of the candidate?

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Patti Hunt Cinacol guides a job doc reader

Ask the job doc.

Q: Is it legal for potential employers to ask what your current salary is and requires a specific answer?

A: Employers can ask candidates broad questions. Most employers understand that they should focus on job-related questions. It is common for a candidate to be asked about skill set, related experience, education or certifications.

Current compensation and/or salary history however is now illegal in Massachusetts. Massachusetts is the first state to restrict salary history questions before extending an offer of employment. The regulation is called the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (MEPA) and mandates equal pay for comparable work. Effective July 1, 2018, the Attorney General’s Office enforces MEPA. MEPA covers Massachusetts workers as well as employees who telecommute in a Massachusetts office. Full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal workers are all covered by MEPA.

A candidate can share their salary history with a potential employer, but they are not required to do so. Also, employers may not include this type of question on their employment applications. Prior to 2018, a standard employment application would often ask for dates of employment at a former employer as well as beginning and end compensation and/or salary for each role listed. Dated employment applications may still be in use by some employers. An employer may ask about the salary expectations of a candidate in their next role. The law also prohibits “pay confidentiality” or “your compensation is confidential” policies.

The law covers Massachusetts workers. The intent of the law is to ensure equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender. MEPA defines several reasons why pay can vary between genders. Education and training are one. For example, if one employee has an MBA and another employee does not, this may be a reasonable justification for the pay difference. Geography could be another reason. If an employee is living in Idaho and an employee is living in Cambridge, this may also be a permissible reason. Especially with the rise in telecommuting, employers will have to grapple with this, as many workers have moved out of state but are still working for the Massachusetts-based company.

For more information about MEPA, visit,

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