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Employee Group Calls on OPM to Ban Salary History from Hiring

An employee organization focused on gender equity at the Justice Department said the federal government should stop asking job applicants for their salary history, a practice that contributes to pay disparity across gender and race.

A federal employee association aimed at ensuring gender equity at the Justice Department on Thursday called on the Office of Personnel Management to implement regulations to block agencies’ use of job applicants’ salary history as part of the federal hiring process.

The DOJ Gender Equity Network, which is composed of around 1,000 Justice Department employees, and a number of other employee associations last year sent a letter to the leaders of each component of the department asking them to stop asking applicants’ about their salary histories during the hiring process, arguing it contributes to unfair treatment of women, minorities and LGBTQ+ employees. But last September, the Justice Management Division responded to the letter, justifying the practice by noting that it is allowed under federal hiring regulations.

In a letter to OPM Director Kiran Ahuja Thursday, the association cited President Biden’s executive order encouraging better diversity, equity and inclusion across the federal government as an impetus for banning questions about job applicants' salary history.

“With President Biden’s full-throated commitment to ending ‘racial and gender pay gaps’ in his June 25 executive order . . . moving significantly closer to pay equity has never been so possible,” wrote network president Stacey Young. “As you know, Section 12 of [the order] directs you to, in part, review and revise compensation practices, and consider banning agencies from ‘seeking or relying on an applicant’s salary history during the hiring process’ when setting federal pay.”

The executive order provides a potential exception to a ban on considering an applicant’s salary history in cases where an applicant provides it “without prompting.” But the group argued that could perpetuate the same pay inequities that already exist.

“We fear that this exception would swallow the rule,” Young wrote. “For example, if a highly paid attorney at a large law firm seeks to negotiate a salary increase, he can evade the purpose of a salary history ban by simply volunteering the information. To truly break the cycle of wage discrimination and close the pay gap, the government cannot reward or penalize people for their pay in prior jobs, regardless of whether an agency solicits it or the applicant provides it without prompting.”

In the meantime, Young wrote that OPM can provide guidance discouraging the use of salary histories in the hiring process, as new regulations take time to develop and publish for public comment.

The organization also called on OPM to encourage agencies to conduct “pay audits” and adjust the salaries of those who fell victim to wage disparities.

“To eliminate ongoing race- and gender-based wage disparities that the administration acknowledges are unjust, OPM should encourage all agencies to give their employees the option of requesting an audit of how their salary compares to their peers,” the letter states. “OPM should also encourage agencies to conduct a global pay review so they can become aware of any inequities and adjust upwards the salaries of those who have been victims of unlawful wage disparities.”

In a discussion with reporters Wednesday, before the letter was sent, Ahuja touted Biden’s diversity executive order, and expressed a desire to improve pay equity across the federal government.

“The federal government has traditionally been seen as a pathway to the middle class, with less inequities when you compare the whole calendar of pay to other sectors, where you see a huge distinction between top executives and those underneath, but there’s a lot more we can do,” Ahuja said Wednesday. “It’s about offering competitive pay, equitable pay, workplace flexibilities, and really being a model employer when it comes to telework, remote work, as well as providing opportunities to up-skill and continue to grow in positions.”

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