Can an Employer Legally Verify Salary History?

Written by James Hirby | Fact checked by The Law Dictionary staff |  

There are many unpleasant aspects of the professional job search process. In this tough economy, competition among applicants in some industries is increasingly intense. If you recently interviewed for a full-time job in a competitive field, you probably submitted to at least one phone screen and two in-person interviews.

It's no secret that the competitive job market has contributed to stagnant or even falling wages in many industries. When 10 applicants clamor for a single open position, it's tempting for the employer posting that position to tender its offer of employment to the applicant willing to accept the lowest starting salary. This has negative ramifications for earnings across a broad range of industries.

In practical terms, this relentless quest for salary efficiency leads most interviewers to devote significant amounts of interview time to discussions of applicants' previous earnings. At your most recent interview, it's likely that you were asked what you earned at your last several positions. Although the question probably didn't come as a surprise, you may have had some trouble formulating an appropriate answer.

For starters, you may have been unsure whether your interviewer would double-check your answers. Many job applicants wrongly assume that interviewers ask this "salary question" simply to establish a framework for future negotiations over compensation and benefits. In fact, most employers choose to double-check their applicants' past earnings. This is often a crucial part of the interview process.

As such, you'll need to prepare to verify any assertions that you make about your compensation history. It's important to remember that your potential employer is not legally entitled to obtain any specific information related to your past earnings. However, no law prohibits this employer from making hiring decisions based on the information that you provide. If you're caught providing false, misleading or inaccurate information about your past earnings, it's unlikely that you'll be hired. As such, you'll need to set aside your reservations and answer all salary-related interview questions.

Your interviewer can verify the assertions that you make about your past earnings in two ways. First, he or she may ask you to provide an old pay stub or the previous year's W-2 form. This request is typically made during the initial phone interview with the expectation that you'll provide the information at your first in-person interview. Alternatively, your interviewer may call your previous employer to ask about your compensation. In either case, a discrepancy may disqualify you from consideration.

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