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Can an employer legally ask about your salary?

Q: Is it legal for potential employers to ask what your current salary is and require a specific answer?

A: Employers can ask a broad range of questions of candidates. Most employers understand that they should focus on job-related questions. It is common for a candidate to be asked about skill set, related experience, education or certifications.

Compensation is also considered a job-related question. I consulted Lisa Stephanian Burton, Esq., a partner in the Labor and Employment Practice at Morgan, Lewis and Bockius LLP. Burton offered, "It is legal for a prospective employer to ask applicants their current salary. I recommend providing an accurate answer when asked. Prospective employers often will call current or former employers and confirm name, dates of employment, last position held and salary. Additionally, employment applications often require an applicant's signature, which certifies that the information provided is true and accurate. If an employer learns that information provided on the application was inaccurate, it could be used as grounds for termination."

Burton raises a point worth expanding upon. Often times companies will require an applicant to complete an employment application, rather than simply submit a resume. The employment application is a way of gathering the same data from every applicant since resumes often differ in content. Most employment applications contain "fine print" at the bottom or top of the application form. This "fine print" often states that, by signing the application form, you, the applicant, are verifying that the information provided is truthful and no material information has been omitted. If you state that you hold a degree and you do not, if you state that you worked for a former employer for 15 years and it was actually 10 years, or if you state that you have earned certifications but have not, this misinformation could be grounds for termination, regardless of when this misinformation is discovered. This is particularly damaging to employees who have worked for a company for several years and then a discrepancy is discovered.

In short, be candid and honest when you represent yourself, including your salary. A misrepresentation can be a costly error.

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