NYC to force employers to post pay scales in advertisements

Paycheck Fairness. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

As part of a wave of so-called “pay transparency” laws, the New York City municipal government voted early this year to require employers to include salary ranges on most advertisements for job openings. The new law is scheduled to take effect next month. But it now looks like the City Council will vote to delay the implementation of the law until after the summer. The reason is that employers around the city have been warning the government that this type of law will likely cause more problems than it solves. And in an unusual move (at least by New York City standards), the Council seems to be listening and taking them seriously. (Associated Press)

Just four months ago, city lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to require many ads for jobs in the nation’s most populous city to include salary ranges, in the name of giving job applicants — particularly women and people of color — a better shot at fair pay. But on the cusp of implementing the measure, lawmakers will likely vote Thursday to postpone it for five months after employers waved red flags.

The debate marks a prominent test for a burgeoning slate of U.S. “pay transparency” laws. And the answer seems simple to Brooklyn restaurant server Elizabeth Stone.

“I believe I deserve to know how much I can make as a waitress,” she said.

This entire situation strikes me as a solution in search of a problem. Also, the law in question is so full of loopholes that it almost seems pointless. First of all, how many people out there actually apply for and take jobs without being told what they will be paid? Pay negotiations frequently don’t take place until after the interview and when the prospective employer expresses interest in hiring you. At that point, if the offer isn’t satisfactory, you can either make a counter-offer or just walk away. Nobody is forcing you to go to work there.

Employers have plenty of reasons to oppose this sort of mandate. Some of the employers complaining the most loudly aren’t the huge Wall Street firms where people can earn a fortune. It’s the smaller non-profits and charitable organizations who don’t want to see it. They can’t always afford to pay higher wages, but they say forcing them to disclose their salaries in advertisements will scare off some potential applicants before they get the chance to sell them on the rewarding nature of the work and other non-fiscal benefits that might make the job more attractive.

As I noted above, the law itself seems to have been created in an almost toothless fashion. All job advertisements would have to include “the minimum and maximum pay the employer in good faith believes” it will pay. But there is no limit to what the range can be, aside from the prevailing minimum wage laws. So they can include a ludicrously low-ball salary at one end and a figure they would probably never actually offer at the other. After all, not all job applicants are created equal. If you apply for a job while having barely the minimum requirements in terms of education and experience, you may still be hired. But you’re not going to be offered as much as another person who joins the company with a vastly richer background and accomplishments. And you think you should be getting the same salary as that person just based on your gender or skin color you’re not being terribly realistic.

All of the chants being heard about “equal pay for equal work” seem to ignore one obvious reality. Not all “work” is “equal.” An applicant who comes to the firm needing to learn the ropes and develop their skills isn’t going to be offered as much as someone who shows up with their own list of clients and contacts and hits the ground running. Someone who clocks out at the designated quitting time every day will not advance as fast as someone who burns the midnight oil and produces more for the employer. Is this really all that complicated? I have to wonder if the people writing these laws have ever held down an actual job in the private sector themselves.