Illegal to Ask about a Candidate’s Compensation?

RJ Morris Compensation/Cash Money, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Negotiation, Outmatch, RJ Morris

Talent acquisition professionals get paid to talk turkey with candidates. I am talking about cold, hard cash money. What do you need, what do you feel your skillset is worth, what do you want, what will it take, and where are you at now? Every recruiter I have known is comfortable handling these conversations in a professional manner.

….until now. Or starting in 2018, to be precise. Massachusetts has just passed a law that makes it illegal for recruiters (or hiring managers) to ask a candidate about money until the company makes an offer. Check this article from

On Aug. 1, 2016, Massachusetts became the first state to bar employers from asking job applicants about their salary history before making a formal job offer that includes compensation. Under the new law, employers may not seek information about an applicant’s salary history from the applicant or his or her current or former employer unless the applicant voluntarily discloses such information or gives the prospective employer written authorization to obtain such information after an offer of employment with compensation terms has been made.

Hey, did I miss something? Has talking to candidates about money been a problem? Why is someone making a federal / state case out of this?

To have efficient hiring processes, it’s super helpful to figure out early what the “seller” is hoping to receive for their skillset. Job seekers get to say what they want to make—that’s ok. Often, candidates also provide their current compensation, understanding that both parties know that it usually takes a 10% bump to make a move—and a lot more than that in some cases. And a lot less in other cases.

A handful of the factors that determine whether someone will take more or less money:

  • Career growth
  • Location—better or worse
  • Better work environment
  • Moving away from a bad boss or to a better one
  • New skill learning opportunity
  • And 67 more reasons

In almost all markets right now, top talent is at a premium. It’s a seller’s market, and based on what the seller needs, their compensation expectations can change. Massachusetts is making that conversation illegal (if asked by the employer).

With all of the information available to candidates, it’s hard to argue that they are at a disadvantage. I understand that there are shady companies in the world who are perfectly happy paying someone below market if they can get away with it. However, the market over time fixes this with higher attrition and lower overall talent working at those firms.

Why is the Commonwealth against having a frank and open conversation about this topic? I am perfectly open to learning more about this. Somebody help me out.

FOT Note: This rant is brought to you by the good folks at OutMatch who like us enough to be an annual sponsor at FOT for all content in our Talent Selection and Employee Development track (and don’t expect that we run any of this by them ahead of time). 

RJ Morris
I have spent the last 20 years of my professional life advising leaders to make great talent decisions to drive business results. In my current gig, I lead talent acquisition and management for a multi-billion-dollar, 100% employee-owned construction company. I geek out on analytics, succession planning, etc. and love it when we position folks to do their best work. That’s fun stuff. I tease bad HR people, because I think we can all do better, myself included. That’s fun, too.