Washington Law Requiring Salary Range on Job Postings Takes Effect


Most Washington employers now must include salary information in job postings under a law that went into effect Sunday.

The pay transparency law makes Washington one of a handful of states that now require most employers to disclose wage scales or salary ranges in postings, rather than waiting until an offer is made.

That range should extend from the lowest to highest possible pay, set by the employer before the job posting is published, according to guidance from Washington's Department of Labor and Industries. The job postings must list benefits offered, including health insurance, retirement plans, paid days off, parental leave and stock options.

The legislation is meant to help close the gender wage gap and ensure companies are offering fair compensation. It will also arm workers with information that may help them negotiate a salary offer and help existing employees understand their workplace compensation structure.

The American Association of University Women, which helps train workers to negotiate salaries, found women were paid 84 cents for every dollar paid to men in a comparison of full-time, year-round workers in 2021. When the calculation included all workers, women took home 77 cents for every dollar men did.

As employers prepared for the law to take effect, it may already have made an impact.

"The new law is probably having exactly the intended effect by having employers take a closer look at what their pay is, making sure that its internally consistent and equitable across their organizations," said Erin Jacobson, the director of legal and HR advice for Archbright, a Seattle-based organization that helps employers comply with regulations in the Pacific Northwest.

"If they see any issues, they're looking to fix them before they have to publish it," Jacobson said. "This is the final piece in the puzzle, it seems, to get pay equity really ingrained for Washington employers."

Some employers had already opted to include salary information in job postings. As of December, 45% of job postings on Indeed included employer-provided pay information, according to a study from the job search engine.

In Washington, 48% of postings had pay information.

"This is a basic question: How much am I going to get paid?" said Scott Dobroski, vice president of corporate communications for Indeed. "It sets expectations up front. Is this a job they even want to apply for? And, if they applied and actually got [it], would they be satisfied with the job?"

Companies started voluntarily including salary information on job postings about a decade ago, Dobroski said, but they've remained in the minority. Anecdotally, large companies are less likely to do so than small or medium-sized businesses, he said, because there is more variety in roles among current employees and potential candidates.

"It's just a really, really hard thing for them to untangle," Dobroski said.

But it's worth untangling, he added. Indeed found that including salaries in a job posting can tip the scale for workers applying for a new role: 75% of respondents to an April survey said they were more likely to submit an application if the pay range is listed.

Colorado was the first to adopt a salary transparency law in 2019. Now, several states and cities — including California, Maryland, Nevada, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York City — are enacting similar legislation, though each bill varies slightly. Some require employers to share salary information upon request or after an interview; others, like Washington, require employers to include the pay range in a job posting.

California's legislation, which also went into effect Jan. 1, went a step farther than most and will require large employers to submit an annual report breaking down salaries by race, ethnicity and sex.

In New York City, employers are testing the limits of the city law by posting pay ranges that, in some cases, span more than $100,000, according to a Bloomberg News analysis of more than 400 open roles.

Washington's legislation — Senate bill 5761 — 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. Gov. Jay Inslee signed it into law later that month.

It is part of Washington's gender discrimination law, which is meant to promote fairness for workers by addressing practices that could lead to income disparities between the sexes. That law requires Washington employers to provide equal pay for similar work, except for reasons unrelated to gender, like performance, seniority or differences in education, training and experience.

It also prohibits employers from limiting advancement opportunities for employees based on gender and from asking job applicants about past salaries. The same law says employers cannot prohibit workers from discussing wages and benefits and cannot take any adverse actions against an employee for doing so.

The new job posting requirements apply to employers with 15 or more employees — and extend far beyond just Washington-based companies.

The 15-worker threshold includes employers that don't have a physical presence in Washington, as long as the employer has one or more Washington-based employees, according to the Labor Department's guidance.

It also applies to employers "engaging in business" in the state, including those recruiting for jobs that could be filled by a Washington-based employee. The Labor Department will make an out-of-state exception for job postings tied to worksites outside the state, like an opening for a server at a restaurant.

The new requirements also include remote work job postings. Employers cannot say in a posting that they will not accept Washington candidates. That reportedly came up often after Colorado adopted its salary transparency regulations.

Washington's Labor Department is defining a job posting as a solicitation an employer uses to attract new workers for a specific position that includes desired qualifications. That can be through a third-party recruiter, a printed job announcement or a posting on a digital job board.

A "help wanted" sign in a window would not be included. Neither would a banner ad on a website reading, "Manufacturing jobs available." Both of those don't list qualifications expected of applicants or a specific position, the department said.

When an employee is offered an internal transfer or promotion, employers have to give them the wage or salary range if the employee requests that information.

When it was proposed, the legislation drew criticism from trade groups advocating for business owners worried it would be cumbersome for some companies, or lead to unintended consequences for job seekers, if their past salary is listed on a job posting that future employers could find.

Now, Bob Battles, the director of government affairs at the Association of Washington Business and one of the voices expressing concern, said the Labor Department listened to feedback from those trade groups and has provided guidance to answer many of the unknowns.

His biggest concern now is how the department will respond to mistakes.

"We would hope [the department is] going to give employers time, especially during this transition, to comply," Battles said. "It's not an unwillingness to comply but the reality of any new rule. There will be mistakes made."

Bridget Osborne, a policy analyst with the Department of Labor and Industries, said the department will rely on educational efforts first. The department has the authority to investigate all complaints, and will evaluate issuing fines on a case-by-case basis.

"Our goal is to help employers comply with these new requirements so workers have a better understanding of a position's pay, benefits and other compensation," Osborne said.

Jennifer Harpole, an attorney at Littler who advises employers on Colorado laws, recommends Washington employers take down any noncompliant job postings that were published before Jan. 1.

For future postings, she recommends employers are able to explain how they came up with the salary range.

On the other end, job seekers still have homework to do, said Gloria Blackwell, CEO of the American Association of University Women.

Most people want to ask for the top range of the salary band, Blackwell said, but just because it's listed, doesn't mean that's where each candidate will fit. Instead, the salary band allows workers to "be equipped with more information" when they start negotiations, taking some information out from behind the locked door, she continued.

New requirements like those in Washington are "an opportunity for organizations and companies not to stick with the old way of doing things," Blackwell said. But they won't be an all-encompassing solution to unequal pay in the workforce.

Pay transparency efforts are "a step in the right direction, along the road to pay equity, for sure," Blackwell said. "But it's not going to solve the pay gap."