Rauner vetoes bill that would bar employers from asking about salary history

Gov. Bruce Rauner has vetoed a bill that would prohibit employers from asking job candidates about their salary history, but advocates for the measure say they'll try to garner enough support in the state legislature for an override.

Rauner on Friday vetoed Illinois' No Salary History bill, which seeks to narrow the pay gap between men and women by keeping too-low salaries from following women as they move from job to job. A wave of similar laws have been adopted in states and cities across the country, including Massachusetts, Oregon, Delaware, New York City and San Francisco.

Iliana Mora, CEO of the advocacy group Women Employed, said she was "shocked" and "disappointed" that Rauner blocked the bill, and plans to work with Republicans who supported the legislation on an override during the November veto session.

The numbers could work in her favor. The bill passed the House 91-24 and the Senate 35-18, with one Senate member voting present. A veto override requires 71 votes in the House and 36 in the Senate.

Rep. Steve Andersson, R-Geneva, who voted for the bill, expressed optimism that the effort would succeed.

"This bill has had strong bi-partisan support from day one," Andersson said in a comment posted Friday evening to the Facebook page of Rep. Anna Moeller, D-Elgin, chief sponsor of the legislation. "It's a bill that will right an important wrong. I have faith this will be law shortly. I will vote to override and I don't think I will be alone..."

The practice of setting pay based on a job candidate's previous salary is believed to be one factor perpetuating a pay gap between men and women. Overall in Illinois, women earn 79 cents for every dollar a man earns, and while that gap narrows when comparing people with the same occupation, title, industry and experience, it persists in many jobs, and research shows the disparity starts early.

Women just out of college earn 6.6 percent less in their first jobs than their male counterparts after controlling for personal demographics, occupation, college major, grade point average, hours worked and location, according to a 2012 report from the American Association of University Women, which cited bias or reluctance among women to negotiate salary as among possible reasons. Bills that prohibit asking about salary history require employers to set pay based on skills and job requirements.

In a message issued with his veto, Rauner said the "gender wage gap must be eliminated" and suggested that Illinois model a bill after a law in Massachusetts that gives employers a bit more wiggle room.

Like the Illinois bill, the Massachusetts law makes it unlawful for an employer to seek a job candidate's compensation history, including pay and benefits, unless it is a matter of public record or the applicant is a current employee applying for another position within the company. The measures don't prohibit candidates from volunteering the information.

But the Massachusetts law, which goes into effect next July, allows employers to seek pay history after they have offered a candidate the job and salary — which, on the plus side, could allow employers to increase an offer to make it more appealing, but, on the down side, could reduce an employee's raise or bonus down the road if it is revealed he or she was earning much less before.

Mora said such provisions weaken the law, and that the goal was to have a simple bill.

"If the point is not to ask for previous salary, let's just stick to that," she said. "There should be no out in our view."

Still, she was heartened that Rauner's message suggests he recognizes a gender pay gap exists and that he believes not asking for prior salary could be a way to eliminate it.

Some employers have come out against bills that ban asking about salary history, saying they interfere with the hiring process and won't do much to close the pay gap. Philadelphia's ordinance is on hold after the local chamber of commerce sued the city, arguing the law violates employers' First Amendment rights. The chamber also said the law doesn't consider that pay discussions are important to lure high-level executives away from their current employers.

Brian Alcala, who heads the labor and employment practice in the Chicago office of Nixon Peabody, said restrictions on talking about salary could hurt some applicants who wish to negotiate aggressively, because employers might be reluctant to discuss pay even if the candidate brings it up voluntarily.

"The employers are going to be a little gun-shy in talking about salary because they're afraid of running afoul of this law," said Alcala, who represents employers. With a patchwork of different laws in different localities, multistate employers might avoid the conversation altogether to be safe, he said. Employers must follow the local laws where their employees are based, no matter where the company is headquartered.

But Jill Weinstein, a partner in the Chicago law firm Pedersen and Weinstein, sees the bill as a way to stop pay inequality before it can harm morale, lead to costly lawsuits and derail careers. Most of her clients find out by accident, or through casual conversations with friends, that they are getting paid less than male colleagues with the same job.

"It's devastating, not just from a financial perspective," Weinstein, who represents employees in discrimination cases. "When there isn't a good explanation for the pay disparity it's very demoralizing, you don't feel valued, and some women decide they're just not going to work anymore."

aelejalderuiz@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @alexiaer

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