2022 Legislative Session

The Value of Pay Ranges in Job Postings

Washington's new salary disclosure law is part of a national movement to promote pay equity. But it still leaves much to the imagination.

By Benjamin Cassidy April 11, 2022

No more holding out on us, bosses-to-be: Many Washington companies will soon have to disclose wage scales or salary ranges on job posts, per a new state law.

Starting next January, employers with 15 or more workers must divulge compensation intel before the whole interview rigamarole begins, according to a bill sponsored by Democratic state senator Emily Randall. Previously, under the Washington Equal Pay and Opportunities Act, companies only had to dish after extending offers.

The legislation arrives amid a national movement to advance pay equity and transparency. Companies have long tried to keep salaries hush-hush to gain an upper hand in negotiations. What often follows is a tedious guessing game that many workplace experts believe contributes to the gender pay gap and other forms of economic injustice. “There’s all of this kind of gaming that takes place where people could just, frankly, be wasting their time,” says Mikaela Kiner, the CEO and founder of human resources consulting firm Reverb.

With Washington’s law, “it just takes some of that negotiation off the table,” Kiner says. Many employers, she says, have specific ranges for positions and levels; sharing them shouldn’t be hard, and she hasn’t heard local corporate clients fretting about having to do so.

But requiring a “wage scale or salary range,” as the bill states, still leaves much to the imagination. Prepare for some very creative interpretations of “range” that may not reveal much more than quick scans of PayScale or Glassdoor. “If you looked up the definition of ‘vague’ in the dictionary, this bill would be pictured,” state representative Larry Hoff, a Republican, said during a House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee meeting in February.

The law also doesn’t address additional forms of compensation such as bonuses or stock options, nor does it apply to businesses with fewer than 15 workers—places where it’s harder to find anonymous pay leaks online.

Still, Kiner’s confident that larger companies’ disclosures will compel smaller ones to do the same. Reverb, for instance, could be exempt, but once she heard about the new law, “I literally wrote to our HR manager and said, ‘Let's just start doing this.’”

For better or worse, Washington isn’t a guinea pig on this bit of legislation. A similar law took effect in Colorado last year to acclaim from pay equity advocates, and New York City’s rolling out its own this spring, if it doesn’t get delayed or gutted. Blowback in Colorado may be contributing to that hesitancy; the policy’s scared off companies searching for remote workers in the state (because they’d then have to post salaries for open jobs), and, predictably, inspired some $100,00 pay ranges in listings.

But these new rules are the equivalent of legislative starting offers. Like with the $15 minimum wage, it will take years to accurately measure the effects of public salaries and tweak accordingly. (A National Bureau of Economic Research study did find that Canadian pay disclosure legislation decreased the gender pay gap among university faculty by 20 to 40 percent.)

In the short-term, the laws can’t possibly introduce any more uncertainty as workers navigate the application process or org chart. Cher Scarlett, a software engineer and prominent worker organizer in Kirkland, backed the Washington bill on a public hearing video call. During interviews at Starbucks and Apple, questions about salary expectations flummoxed Scarlett, who said she grew up in poverty and didn’t know what was appropriate to ask for. Only later did she learn that this lack of awareness lowered her compensation. She’s since seen others discover the same. “We deserve to get paid what we’re worth,” Scarlett said, “and we deserve to know what that is.”

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