Potential employers would be prohibited from requesting a job applicant’s wage or salary history, or require that their salary history meet certain criteria, under legislation passed today by the Senate.

“This landmark legislation will help eliminate the perpetuation of inequities suffered by women who have been paid significantly less on average than men with comparable experience doing comparable work,” said Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver), a longtime champion for equal pay laws. “When someone has been underpaid for years, that inequity continues so long as future pay raises are calculated based on their past rate of pay. They never catch up, and they continue to lose money year after year compared to their male counterparts, on average.”

House Bill 1696 addresses this perpetual inequity three ways:

  • It prohibits an employer from seeking an applicant’s wage or salary history, or requiring that the wage or salary history meet certain criteria, with limited exceptions;
  • It requires employers to provide certain wage scales and salary ranges to employees and applicants, so everyone can know the expected pay range; and
  • It allows an employee to bring a civil action for actual damages; statutory damages equal to the actual damages or $5,000, whichever is greater; and interest, costs, and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

The legislation builds on actions by Cleveland in each on the past two legislative sessions to address inequities in pay based on gender.

In 2017, Cleveland inserted a proviso into the state’s operating budget to extend protections to employees who work for vendors that contract with six Washington state agencies. Those protections prohibit discrimination in compensation and provide remedies, including damages and civil penalties assessed by the state Department of Labor & Industries, and civil action brought by an employee.

In 2018, legislation sponsored by Cleveland extended those protections to employees of all businesses that operate in Washington state. The law also established protections for employees who are offered unequal workplace opportunities based on gender, and prohibited employers from requiring employees not to discuss their wages with each other.

Having been amended by the Senate, HB 1696 now goes back to the House for further consideration.