Washington is poised to become the ninth state to pass a law that would prohibit employers from asking job applicants about their salary history.

The state legislature recently passed HB 1696, which would, among other things, prohibit employers from inquiring into the prior “wage or salary history” of an applicant for employment. The bill has been sent to Governor Jay Inslee, who is expected to sign.

Specifically, the bill would prohibit an employer from seeking the salary history of an applicant for employment from either the applicant or the applicant’s current or former employer. Employers would also be prohibited from requiring that an applicant’s prior salary history “meet certain criteria,” a phrase which is not further defined in the bill.

However, an employer would be permitted to confirm an applicant’s salary history:

  • if the applicant voluntarily discloses their salary history; or
  • after the employer has negotiated and made an offer of employment with compensation to the applicant.

Notably, the bill does not define what forms of compensation or other metrics would be considered part of an applicant’s “wage or salary history.” It also does not expressly permit employers to engage in discussions with an applicant about their compensation expectations for the position they are seeking, which is a common provision in other jurisdictions’ salary history laws. Nevertheless, even in the absence of such a provision, there is an argument to be made that inquiring solely about an applicant’s salary expectations or requirements (without also inquiring about their salary history) would not violate the law.

The bill would further require employers with fifteen or more employees, upon request of an applicant after an initial offer of employment has been made, to provide the minimum wage or salary for the position for which the applicant is applying. Such employers would also be required, upon request of a current employee being offered an internal transfer or promotion, to provide the wage scale or salary range for the new position being offered. If no wage scale or salary range exists, the employer would then have to provide the “minimum wage or salary expectation set by the employer prior to posting the position, making a position transfer, or making the promotion.”

In addition to the authority of the Washington Department of Labor and Industries to investigate and enforce claims, individuals alleging violations under the bill would be permitted to bring a private right of action. Potential remedies would include compensatory and statutory damages, attorneys’ fees and costs, and other legal and equitable relief.

If enacted, the law would take effect 90 days after signing. We will continue to monitor this bill, as well as developments with regard to salary history laws around the country.