Withholding salary history: the surprising truth

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When it comes to the hiring process, many employers are unsure about what questions are appropriate. Likewise, many interviewees are unaware of the types of questions they can choose to leave undisclosed. One of these questions is asking for a job applicant’s previous salary history. This question is considered a grey area of law because obtaining this information can be beneficial or detrimental to both the employer and employee. It is important to carefully consider how this question is asked as it could be considered discriminatory and therefore illegal. Read this Business Kitz blog to find out your rights as an interviewer or interviewee. 

While some US states and cities have banned employers from asking applicants questions about salary history, it is not unlawful in Australia to ask about salary history or expectations. Whilst you can ask about salary history, using this information against an applicant is prohibited by anti-discrimination legislation. Treating an applicant unfairly because of this, or downgrading the status of the job depending on the applicant is considered unlawful. 

What is discrimination in interviews?

The definition of discrimination is the unfair or prejudicial treatment of different groups, classes or categories they belong to. Discrimination is considered unlawful which means interviewers are prohibited from asking questions about gender, age, religion, ethnicity, sexuality and disability. This is supported by the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 and the Anti-Discrimination Act 2004. As an employer, it is your obligation to understand discrimination policies to ensure that employees are selected based on their ability to perform a job. When determining which job applicant is most suitable for the role, the legislation states that information can be requested for non-discriminatory purposes only.  

How does discrimination affect questions regarding salary history?


When you disclose your salary to an interviewer, you should consider what sort of information the interviewer will receive. Salary history only includes each company’s name, your job title, salary and benefits packages received. As people are constantly overpaid or underpaid, this information does not convey a candidates worth in previous workplaces, how talented and passionate they ar,e or how well they worked in a team. This is why disclosing salary history is not relevant to a candidate’s suitability to perform a role.

Does this mean it’s illegal as a discriminatory question?

The Anti-Discrimination legislation deems questions regarding salary history to be lawful, but questions inferring information that are not relevant to the candidates ability to perform the job will often be looked at. The Equal Opportunity legislation states that requesting salary history can be used in a non-discriminatory way to establish a salary for the candidate. It would only be considered discriminatory conduct if the employer does not comply with the Fair Work Act 2009 and evidence was found to prove the interviewers decision making process was unreasonable and unethical. Asking about salary history in an interview is fine, but this information is to only be disclosed at the candidates discretion and they are free to politely decline.

What are my options if I’m asked about salary history?

If you are asked about your previous salary in an interview, you have the option to politely decline. By doing so, the interviewer may feel more inclined to provide a reason for why they need this information from you. With an explanation, this question is more ethical and less discriminatory, allowing you to answer more comfortably. You could also choose to be flexible with the salary range you put forward. For instance, you may feel more comfortable stating you earn in the mid-sixties, as opposed to providing an exact number. Similarly, you may feel more at ease providing a range of two numbers such as “I am earning between sixty and seventy thousand.”

As a job applicant, it is unethical to lie about your previous salary and could land you in significant trouble if you were to be caught lying. While this is the case, you should still be tactical about providing this information as it can affect the salary negotiation process and lower your expected income. There are always businesses looking to hire quality employees for less and may lower your negotiations if they possess your salary history.

Legal advice

If you have any queries or are unsure about salary history, you should seek legal advice. Our sister company Legal Kitz can assist in determining what questions you are allowed to ask in an interview. Our Legal Kitz business specialists can assist with ensuring that your concerns are addressed and can provide you with advice that is tailored to your situation. You can book a free 30-minute consultation with our experienced and highly qualified team via our website now.