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Stars – They’re Just Like Us! They Benefit From the Prohibition of the Salary History Question!

Topics: Current Events
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A California law that went into effect January 1 bars employers from asking potential employees for their salary history, and it’s transforming how and how much star actresses are being paid.

The legalese around the new law reads, “An employer shall not rely on the salary history information of an applicant for employment as a factor in determining whether to offer employment to an applicant or what salary to offer an applicant,” and “An employer shall not, orally or in writing, personally or through an agent, seek salary history information, including compensation and benefits, about an applicant for employment.”

The goal of this law – and others like it enacted or waiting passage in in Delaware, Massachusetts, Oregon and New York, among other states and cities – is to prevent employers from basing a new hire’s salary on what they made at previous jobs; If the applicant was underpaid at his or her last job, a prospective employer could potentially offer them more than what they were making but still less than their market value, thereby perpetuating a lifetime of being underpaid. (Read more about the insidiousness of Salary History question in PayScale’s report, Is Asking for Salary History … History?)

Regardless of industry, women are often underpaid compared to their equally qualified male peers; according to PayScale’s own research, on average, women earn 77.9 cents for every dollar earned by men.

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They Struggle With the Gender Pay Gap!

This gender pay gap is reflected in Hollywood, too, with “the world’s 10 highest-paid actors (banking) a cumulative $488.5 million last year — nearly three times the $172.5 million combined total of the 10 top-earning women,” according to Forbes.

Hollywood has been hit from a number of gender pay scandals in recent months, including the revelation that actor Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million to reshoot scenes for “All the Money in the World,” while “co-star Michelle Williams received a per diem of $80 per day, totaling less than $1,000.”

They Fight For Merit-Based Salaries!

But the prohibition of the salary history question may already be helping to close the gender pay gap, a fact reflected in reported hefty pay increases for Hollywood actresses.

According to Forbes, one talent agency insider said that, in Hollywood, the law has, “totally changed how the (salary) negotiating process is taking place.”

Says the article:

“Now several agents say they have been able to pull off huge salary leaps for clients, specifically women and people of color, who have been systemically underpaid and underemployed. They cite remuneration increases of between 12% and 20% from project to project — far more than the standard incremental bumps prior to the law’s introduction.”

As with all industries, the elimination of the salary history question in Hollywood is intended to force employers to calculate employee salary based on merit – on skills and experience level – as opposed to basing it on what employees were making at a previous job, and thereby potentially furthering pay inequity.

Given Hollywood’s very visible profile and the recent attention-grabbing headlines around the entertainment industry’s gender pay gap scandals, there’s hope that the impact of making pay equitable for men and women in film and television encourages other cities and states to enact similar legislation.


Do you think efforts to promote pay equity in California will impact employment laws nationwide? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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