More starting salaries in New Jersey may now be based on one's experience, qualifications and expertise, rather than how much money they made in their previous job, due to a law that took effect in 2020.

As of Jan. 1, employers in New Jersey are prohibited from inquiring about an applicant's salary or wage history. The amendment to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination also makes it unlawful for employers to screen a prospective worker based on their past benefits.

"And they won't be able to ask employers — that's key, other employers — what employees made at the last position. That will now become illegal," said Michelle Douglass, a labor lawyer with Marlton-based Burnham Douglass. "So that now we can start with a fresh set of eyes, and maybe valuing positions in employment with a different lens, with the aim of equaling out the workforce."

Douglas said the change will overwhelmingly affect women, who, according to federal statistics, are paid 81.3 cents on the dollar compared to men in New Jersey. The National Partnership for Women and Families said 38% of the gender wage gap may be linked to discrimination and bias.

On the surface, the bill stops companies from giving lowball offers to applicants based on their prior wages.

"Whether you're a male or a female or whoever you are, we're all in this together. People who are married and raising a family have a common goal that each member will be able to get paid the true worth of the work that they perform," Douglass said.

An employer who violates the new law can be fined up to $1,000 for an initial violation, up to $5,000 for a second offense, and up to $10,000 for each subsequent violation.

The law notes that an employer may consider salary history when determining compensation if an applicant discloses that information voluntarily. Employers also have the right to request an applicant's compensation history after making an offer of employment and benefits. The New Jersey Business & Industry Association worked for about a year to get those amendements added to the original bill, a spokesman said.

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