You may have read the news that on April 12, 2019, Maine enacted a new law called “An Act Regarding Pay Equality.” You can read the short law here. Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont actually already have similar laws.
What you need to know about the law is that it is now illegal in Maine for an employer to ask about compensation history when interviewing a prospective employee. Questions like, “So, how much do you currently make?” or “How much did you make at your last job?” are now considered illegal under the new law. An employer also cannot call the prospective employee’s former or present employer and ask how much they were or are being paid. The purpose and intent of this new law is to reduce the wage gap and eliminate wage inequality.
Can an employer ever ask about a job candidate’s wages or rate of pay at their last job? Yes. The law does say that an employer can ask about compensation history only after all terms of compensation have been negotiated with the prospective employee. The law is a little bit unclear about the timeline here. For example, can an employer ask wage questions during the negotiation process or only after the final offer of employment has been accepted? The answers to those questions still need to be worked out. For now, it’s safest to wait until a final offer of employment has been accepted by the soon-to-be employee of your company. Two other loopholes are: (1) you can ask about prior wages if state or federal law requires disclosure of those wages, or (2) to confirm information about payment history only if the prospective employee has voluntarily disclosed compensation history information without prompting by the employer.
What happens if an employer asks about compensation history in violation of the pay equality law? The employer could be fined and sued. Each violation of the law could mean a fine from the Department of Labor between $100 and $500. The scary part of the law for employers is that it gives a prospective employee a right to sue you in court for compensatory damages including for emotional distress.
The law takes effect on September 17, 2019, so now is a good time to instruct management personnel not to ask for salary history information during job interviews.
If you are curious about other potential interview questions and topics that may be off limits, the Maine Human Rights Commission has a great handout about that very issue. You can access it here!
This article is not legal advice but should be considered as general guidance in the area of employment and corporate law. Amy Dieterich, James F. Pross, and Jordan Payne Hay, are employment and labor law attorneys; others at the firm handle business and other matters. You can contact us at 207.784.3200. Skelton Taintor & Abbott is a full service law firm providing legal services to individuals, companies, and municipalities throughout Maine. It has been in operation since its founding in 1853.