Minnesota employers can’t ask applicants about prior pay starting Jan. 1

A woman speaks to reporters
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan speaking to reporters at the Capitol on Thursday.
Dana Ferguson | MPR News

Employers will be barred from asking job applicants about their current or past pay rate under a Minnesota law set to take effect Jan. 1, a change supporters hope will help close gender and racial wage gaps in Minnesota.

Backers of the law, which passed in the 2023 session, said it would keep the focus on applicants’ skills and abilities.

The law prohibits employers from taking an applicant’s past or current pay into account when making a hiring decision. There are exceptions for applicants who raise the information voluntarily or have salaries that are public information.

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights will enforce it and could issue penalties and punitive damages for violations.

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At a news conference Thursday, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan pointed to disparities between average salaries of men and women in the state, as well as between white workers and people of color.

“This is unacceptable, and it’s real money,” Flanagan said. “But in 2024, we are going to put an end to this discrimination.”

Gloria Perez is president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, which backed the effort to ban the past pay question from the application process. She said the policy will help even the playing field.

“The wage gap between men and women has barely budged in more than a decade,” Perez said. ”This law is one step that takes us closer to narrowing this gap that we know affects single women, Black and Indigenous people and women of color the most.”

Studies show that efforts to eliminate the past pay question elsewhere have succeeded in raising salaries of women and people of color and promoting salary transparency, said University of Minnesota Law Professor Jill Hasday.

“I see this as evidence that this helps workers as a whole while simultaneously shrinking both gender and racial pay gaps,” Hasday said.

Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said her agency was working with businesses to set up hiring practices that follow the new policy. She encouraged employers to check templates and hiring forms for past pay questions to avoid any issues.

“No law will solve discrimination and bias if somebody is intent on being discriminatory, but we can set up systems proactively to prevent it from happening in the first place,” Lucero said. “And that's what this is designed to do.”

Lucero said her department was prepared to field and investigate complaints and concerns from people who are asked or prodded about their pay history in job interviews after the law takes hold.