Employers will soon have to be upfront about salaries in job postings

SEATTLE — Starting in January, job postings in Washington will have to include some dollar signs.

Gov. Jay Inslee has signed into law legislation requiring employers in the state to include salary and benefits information in job postings, rather than waiting to disclose that figure after making an offer.

The legislation, Senate Bill 5761, applies to employers with 15 or more workers. Backers contend it will level the playing field for candidates, particularly women, people of color and others who may not have had experience negotiating for a higher salary and are unaware of just how much the company could afford to offer.

“Unless you know what the top and bottom of a pay band is, it’s very difficult to get really what you are worth,” said Cher Scarlett, a software engineer from Kirkland who has advocated for more transparency about wages and gender- or race-based wage gaps in the tech industry.

When Scarlett started applying to jobs, it was hard to comprehend hundreds of dollars coming with every paycheck. She was used to minimum wage jobs and didn’t know to ask for more. On top of that, she didn’t want to risk losing an offer.

Now, she asks above her target salary.

“If I don’t come in and ask for more than what they’re willing to pay, I’m going to get less than the top dollar,” Scarlett said.

Dioselin Gonzalez, a software engineer from Port Angeles, was able to distill her experience negotiating pay at the start of her career into one 30-minute class.

She was taught not to name a number until they made an offer, but didn’t learn until later in her career of 20-plus years that a company often wouldn’t pick a starting salary until after it picked a candidate. Disclosing a salary range on a job posting, Gonzalez said, could help employers avoid implicit bias — or unconscious assumptions and stereotypes that can influence the way one person treats another — preventing managers from (consciously or not) offering a lower salary to women or people of color.

“This is a new tool for managers,” she said. “Think about the salary first, before you even think about who you’re offering it.”

The new Washington law applies to any solicitation the employer uses to attract new workers, whether through a third-party recruiter, a printed job announcement or a posting on a digital job board. Any posting that includes qualifications expected of applicants also must include salary information.

The bill narrowly passed both chambers of the Legislature in March. It advanced from the Senate with a 27-21 split and passed the House 51-46. Inslee signed it into law later that month.

With roughly 10 months until the law goes into effect, Bob Battles, general counsel and government affairs director for the Association of Washington Business, said he is already hearing questions from employers.

What does it mean to give notice to workers? How much detail does a company need to provide about available benefits? Does that include things like paid parking and dental coverage? If an employer chooses a candidate with less experience than originally expected, can it change the salary range? Or does it have to repost the position and start the application process from square one?

“This bill is really a good example of a bill with good intentions, but it simply isn’t necessary,” Battles said. “And I think it really makes it more difficult, especially for small businesses.”

He is expecting — and hoping — to see more guidance or rules coming from the Department of Labor and Industries before the law goes into effect.

Once it does, the effects of the new requirement may take years to be seen, said David Tan, a professor at University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. That’s because inequitable pay gaps take shape slowly, starting from a person’s first paycheck and growing as they negotiate raises or switch jobs.

“Pay gaps are the accumulation of many, many years of many stages of inequality that have compounded as a result of different steps in people’s careers,” Tan said.

Scarlett, who now works as a software engineer at California-based game developer ControlZee, is hopeful the new law will raise salaries across the board. If one tech company, for example, is paying less than its competitors, it will be harder to recruit new talent, she said.

Scarlett said the legislation also applies to companies seeking to recruit Washington workers. Out-of-state companies must disclose salaries for in-state hires.

In Colorado, where a similar law went into effect in 2021, that had the unintended consequence of some employers avoiding the state altogether. Rather than disclosing a salary, some didn’t advertise openings to workers coming from Colorado.

In Washington, Scarlett expects employers will want to recruit top tech talent more than they’ll shy away from disclosing salary information.

“Just excluding Colorado, that’s more of a problem for Colorado workers,” she said. “But a state like Washington, that’s a problem more for a company than for Washington workers.”

In New York City, a salary transparency law requiring employers to list a minimum and maximum pay rate was set to go in effect in May, but city lawmakers may postpone the measure and amend it to exclude some businesses and some positions, according to reporting from The City.

Lawmakers in California are considering legislation to require employers to provide a pay scale in a job posting, as well as a requirement that large private employers publish a pay data report that breaks down the median and hourly pay rate for job category, race, ethnicity and sex.

That’s something Gonzalez would like to see here, as a step toward closing pay gaps between workers of different demographics.

“Hiring is just the very first step,” Gonzalez said. “We’re making a lot of progress into hiring minorities. The thing is, the industry still is like that revolving door. Retention is a terrible problem.”

“Not to be cynical,” she said of Washington’s new law. “But it doesn’t stop here.”