Illegal Interview Questions: “What is Your Current Salary?”

November 16, 2020 in HR Best Practices



Attention Human Resources and Hiring Managers: Before you start preparing interview questions for prospective new hires in the food and beverage industry in the new year, be mindful of specific questions you cannot ask.

Did you know, for example, there are many states in which it’s no longer legal to ask a candidate about their current salary or pay history, regardless of the position or employer?

Massachusetts started this trend back in 2016 when it became the first state to change its labor laws and prohibit asking for salary history in interviews.

If you can’t ask about salary, how can you establish fair pay? Read more here.

Why would a state enact such a law? To protect job seekers from being offered a lower salary than what other candidates might be offered based on their compensation history. Leaving candidate salary history off the negotiating table by not disclosing it during interviews helps the employer tie the salary offered for the position to the person’s skills and makes it difficult to pay a woman less than a man for the same job. Currently, in the United States, 19 states ban the salary question, in addition to 21 municipalities.


According to HR Drive’s latest data, asking a job candidate about their pay history is prohibited in:

  • Alabama
  • California
  • Colorado (effective January 1, 2021)
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia (district government agencies only)
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Maryland (effective October 2020)
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina (state agencies only)
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania (state agencies only)
  • Puerto Rico
  • Vermont
  • Virginia (state agencies only)
  • Washington


Further, these municipalities have enacted bans on the salary question:

  • San Francisco, California
  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Louisville, Kentucky
  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Montgomery County, Maryland
  • Jackson, Mississippi
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Louis, Missouri
  • New York City
  • Albany County, New York
  • Suffolk County, New York
  • Westchester County, New York
  • Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Toledo, Ohio
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (effective September 2020)
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Columbia, South Carolina
  • Richland County, South Carolina
  • Salt Lake City, Utah


On the other hand, laws have been enacted prohibiting such bans in Michigan and Wisconsin. Employers can choose to ask prospective employees this question, and legislators cannot pass any law preventing that conversation.

How can you create a competitive compensation package? Read more here.


Don’t fret: There are other questions to consider

Now that the money question is off the table, what should you ask a prospective employee?

When preparing to interview a possible candidate for a position in the food and beverage industry, consider these:

1) How has your previous experience prepared you for this position?

Keeping the focus on the candidate’s work history, this question allows the candidate to explain how their knowledge and training will help your food and beverage company. It also gives them an opportunity to share how your role will advance their career. If they tout leadership skills and problem-solving abilities, it can help the hiring manager determine compensation. 

2) How much on-the-job training did you receive for your current position, and how much do you expect you would need for this new role?

This speaks to how quickly the candidate can learn and adjust to new responsibilities, and whether or not they’d need more direct supervision when starting a role at your organization. It also establishes a baseline for how deftly they might address challenges at work. 

3) What type of benefits are you seeking?

Does the candidate expect full paid medical insurance, or are they prepared to contribute? Are they looking for a 100% company match to their 401(k), or just the ability to make their contribution? Do they want a flexible schedule, or are they looking for a more traditional work schedule? This speaks to their ability to fit into your company’s structure, helping identify candidates who might not fit.


Still unsure how to proceed? Review Kinsa Group’s 2020 Food and Beverage Salary Guide for more insight on salary medians and ranges by job category and title across the US.