CINCINNATI — Cincinnati’s salary history ban, a measure meant to foster greater wage equality in the city’s workforce, became law quietly. It debuted in early 2020, only to be swept out of sight by news about the rapidly intensifying COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 presidential contest.
A year later, the ban’s proponents don’t know if it’s had the intended effect or if the “call to action” it represents, according to City Council member Jan-Michele Kearney, registered with the people who needed to hear it.
The name of the game right now is outreach. Kearney and fellow advocates want Cincinnati employers to know what the law is and what it means for them.
“Under this law, Cincinnati employers cannot ask about, screen or rely upon salary history information during the application process,” said working group member Holly Hankinson, who also works as the advocacy director for the Greater Cincinnati Fund.
That means companies with more than 15 employees can’t ask about a candidate’s previous salary or retaliate against them for refusing to disclose it.
What does that accomplish? In theory, it prevents employers from low-balling new hires. A company looking for a new employee can’t calibrate its offer to their previous salary; instead, people in charge of hiring must decide what they think the position is really worth.
Kearney said the ban is meant to prevent people, especially women and minorities, from having their earning potential tanked forever by low-paying early jobs.
“What we’re trying to do with this law is trying to prevent this historic gender and racial disparity that has occurred from following an employee from one job to the next,” she said.
Despite its far-reaching goals, it’s difficult to assess whether the law has made a difference in the last year, according to Kearney and Hankison.
The city of Cincinnati has not been notified about any lawsuits filed by job candidates in connection to salary history questions.
Hankinson said she’s been working with local businesses to ensure they’re aware of the law as they hire new workers, but it’s equally important to make sure workers know their own rights.
“The employees and the job applications are the ones that really need to be aware of it as well, to recognize when they’re asked the question that they don’t have to answer it,” she said.
Many large companies already have policies that prohibit asking about employees’ salary history; so do other large cities, including Toledo and Louisville.