Ask HR: Can Recruiters Ask About Your Salary?

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP July 22, 2022
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Ask HR: Can Recruiters Ask About Your Salary?

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here. 

 

During a preliminary interview, a recruiter asked me about my current salary. Is that something they can legally ask? If so, how should I answer? —Douglas

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Depending on where you work, a prospective employer may be well within their right to ask about your current salary. While asking about your current salary is legal under federal law, currently 22 states and 21 cities/localities prohibit salary history inquiries. If your jurisdiction allows employers to ask about salaries, you have a few options for how you can answer.

Obviously, the easiest way to advance in the job search process is to answer the question. The recruitment process is a two-way street where you're trying to learn as much as you can about the job and the employer is trying to get to know you better. Why would a company want to spend time pursuing you for a role that pays significantly less than you currently make? In the event your current salary is higher than what you know they are willing to pay for the role, explain that you are nonetheless genuinely interested in the role for other reasons (e.g., following a spouse/partner or wanting a career change). Strong HR professionals know compensation is not always a primary motivator for wanting a job.

If you prefer not to answer the question, state that you would like to learn more about the position before discussing salary. Or you could ask about the salary range for the position and share your salary expectations.

If your state or locality prohibits employers from asking about your salary, then do not share this information, even if the recruiter is asking for it.

Research and preparation will ensure confidence in finding the perfect response to difficult interview questions. Best of luck to you in your future endeavors!


About a quarter of our staff are salaried employees. These workers are required to clock in and out. Most work in excess of 50 hours a week without additional pay. However, when salaried workers have to leave early or take a day off, their pay is reduced. Can an employer do this to their salaried workers? —Naomi

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Which rules apply will depend on the workers' classification under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as either "exempt" or "nonexempt."

Let's start with exempt employees. An exempt employee is guaranteed a weekly salary, is not eligible for overtime pay and meets specific criteria under the FLSA. When an exempt employee is absent for personal reasons and doesn't have paid leave to cover it (e.g., vacation, personal time or paid time off), the employer can deduct a full day's absence from the worker's pay. However, if an exempt employee is sick and has paid leave, it must be used first before the employer can deduct a full day's absence from the worker's pay. For instances in which an employee works any portion of the day, the employer is not permitted to make pay deductions but may reduce the worker's paid leave bank accordingly.

On the other hand, a nonexempt employee is eligible for overtime pay and is typically paid on an hourly basis but can also be paid in other ways, such as with a weekly salary. There are two approaches for establishing a weekly salary for nonexempt employees.

The first is paying a guaranteed salary for working a set number of hours per week—for example, a consistent schedule of 35 hours per week. When an employee doesn't work the full 35 hours, the employer could require the worker to utilize paid leave or reduce pay for the time taken off. 

The second approach is paying a guaranteed salary for a fluctuating workweek. This seldom-used approach applies when hours are unpredictable, meaning they change from week to week. One week, the employee could work 20 hours and the next week, 52 hours. Under this method, nonexempt employees receive a set weekly salary, no matter how few or how many hours are worked. With this method, an employer could require or allow an employee to use paid leave to cover an absence, but if this time has been exhausted or has not been earned, employers aren't allowed to deduct the time taken off from the worker's pay. 

This can be a complicated issue, but I hope I have provided some clarity for you. Should you still have questions, speak with your supervisor or HR professional to understand whether the positions are exempt or nonexempt, because this will determine what is and is not permitted. 

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