United States: What's Your Salary? Apparently None Of My Business

Last Updated: September 29 2017
Article by David S. Kim

We all know that movie stars make a ton of money. I mean, a ton of money. How much? Well, last month Forbes published its list of the world's highest paid actresses and actors for the previous year so you can see for yourself. There are certainly some surprises on the list.

No offense, but how is Adam Sandler the fourth highest paid actor at $50.5 million the past year? Admittedly, he had a murderer's row in the 90's that included such classics as Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, and The Wedding Singer, but that was decades ago, and let's just say my taste in movies when I was in high school and college was a bit more immature. "Chlorophyll? More like Bore-o-phyll! Right?"

What's not so surprising about the list is the continued disparity between men and women, even when it comes to the upper echelon of actors and actresses. For example, Mark Wahlberg was the highest paid actor last year at approximately $68 million, which was more than 2 ½ times the amount of the highest paid actress, Emma Stone at $26 million. In fact, Emma Stone would have landed all the way at number 15 in the list of top paid male actors. In total, the top 10 actors banked a cumulative $488.5 million, while the top 10 actresses were paid $172.5 million, or almost three times less.

Now no one is saying that these particular actresses are destitute. After all, we are talking about millions of dollars. And a whole essay could be written about the many factors that contribute to this pay disparity, including the unconscious bias that exists regarding female driven movies that I wrote about in my Wonder Women post a while back. But, the reality is that numbers are numbers, and these numbers evidence that there continues to exist a wide gender pay gap in Hollywood.

In fact, as most know, studies show that this gender pay disparity exists when it comes to employment generally, not just in Hollywood. Employment laws, such as the Equal Pay Act and other state laws, have attempted to curb this disparity through legislation. However, an even newer wave of laws has been passed, or proposed, to even further address what are deemed to be historic impediments to gender equity.

Specifically, Delaware, Oregon, Massachusetts, San Francisco and New York City have all passed laws, which will become effective on varying dates within the next year, that would prohibit employers from asking applicants to disclose their past salary history, and other related restrictions. Numerous other states and jurisdictions, including but not limited to Illinois, California, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and a whole host of others, have proposed similar bills.

Proponents of these laws argue that barring employers from asking about salary history is important to closing the gender wage pay gap, as it would preclude the perpetuation of previous salary discrimination that exists. Of course, as with any new law, there are those who challenge the wisdom and legality of such laws.

For example, Philadelphia had passed a law prohibiting the inquiry of an applicant's wage history, but that law's effective date has been stayed pending judicial challenge. Specifically, the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, along with specific employers, have filed a suit in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania alleging that the law violates the First Amendment, Due Process, and other claims. In addition, they argue that employers are harmed by this law as it would hamper their ability to recruit and hire top talent, particularly in the case of high-level executives and employees who must be lured away from their current employer.

It will be interesting to see what the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ultimately rules with respect to this challenge, as it could foreshadow other challenges in other jurisdictions. However, until a determination is made, the reality is that these prohibitions are a growing trend, as evidenced by the number of states that have proposed bills in the pipeline, in addition to those jurisdictions that have already passed such laws.

Therefore, employers must be aware of these potential restrictions. If or when applicable, depending on one's jurisdiction, employers will have to train their employees on the proper scope of questioning during the interview process, and potentially revise any applications or related documents that may delve into this prohibited territory. In addition, employers will have to evaluate and come up with creative, yet consistent methods, to ascertain the appropriate salary for a position or what salary to offer to a candidate without the benefit of the applicant's prior wage history for comparison or negotiation purposes.

Whether these new salary inquiry prohibitions actually assist in lessening the gender pay gap obviously remains to be seen. In the short term, it will certainly provide a burden on employers who are used to recruiting and interviewing candidates a certain way. Personally, I blame Adam Sandler for all of this. He made $50.5 million in the past year. $50.5 million? And he deserves this investment despite being paid $20 million alone in 2015 for the flop Pixels. Pixels? No wonder people think men are overpaid.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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