Carl Kanowksy | Salary history and the three Behrs

Carl Kanowsky
Carl Kanowsky

John Behr and his wife, Margaret, owned an oat-processing company that, among other things, made oats for oatmeal called John’s Groats.

Margaret dreamed up the catchy slogan, “John’s Groats, so delicious you can Behr-ly resist them.”  Another twist was “They’re un-Behr-ably delicious!”

Their son Fred started working with them a few years ago.

The business grew to the point where all three agreed that they needed an office manager.  They placed ads and began interviewing candidates. John handled the process initially.

He had job application forms from a few years ago. He liked these since they provided a lot of information about the applicant, like where they had worked before, what they’d done and how much they made.

Margaret had her own method. She liked to sit down with the prospective employees and “get to know them,” as she liked to say.

They’d talk about where they used to work, how they got along with their bosses and fellow employees, and how successful they’d been. One of the criteria Margaret used to determine someone’s success was their salary history. If someone was at a job for more than a year, Margaret expected to see wage growth. She eliminated all who did not exhibit this achievement.

Well, they get about a dozen job-seekers.

One candidate, Gaul (her folks loved France) Denise Lox, looked promising.

She’d worked at a food company before, had managed medium-sized offices and was quite personable.

But neither John nor Margaret could get any idea about how much she’d made in her prior jobs.  She politely resisted such questions, acting a little surprised that she was being asked such things.

Frustrated, they sent her to talk with Fred.

He had a great interview with Ms. Lox. He learned about how Gaul was promoted from one position to another, had assumed more and more responsibility and that her former supervisors all loved her.

As to salary history, he didn’t go there. Instead, he told her that the hourly rate ranged from $17 per hour to $20 an hour, depending on experience.

“How do you feel about?” Fred inquired. Gaul D. Lox responded, “That’s just right! It falls within my expectations.”

The three Behrs hired her, and they all lived happily ever.

But John and Margaret wanted to know why Gaul D wouldn’t discuss what she’d made at other jobs. She responded, “Silly Behrs. Haven’t you heard about Labor Code Section 432.3? It became effective January 1, 2018.”

Well, they hadn’t.  So, Gaul told them all about it.

The California Legislature, along with a number of other jurisdictions, came to the conclusion that since, historically, women were paid less than men for the same job, asking how much someone made in past positions would only perpetuate that dichotomy.

The solution? Labor Code Section 432.3.

The first two paragraphs of Section 432.2 state, “An employer shall not rely on the salary history information of an applicant for employment as a factor in determining whether to offer employment to an applicant or what salary to offer an applicant. An employer shall not, orally or in writing, personally or through an agent, seek salary history information, including compensation and benefits, about an applicant for employment.”

So, all employers for jobs in California are now prohibited from asking how much their job applicants made before. And, Section 432.2 requires an employer to “provide the pay scale for a position to an applicant applying for employment.”

Now, someone can freely disclose what they made before. “Nothing in this section shall prohibit an applicant from voluntarily and without prompting disclosing salary history information to a prospective employer.” Note the “freely” and “without prompting.”  

The Behrs were lucky that Gaul didn’t see their mistakes as being the springboard for a class action lawsuit.

But not all employers can expect this type of fairy tale ending.

Check out your job application forms and instruct everyone who interviews applicants.

Don’t ask about salary history.

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