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How NYC's pay transparency law sets the stage for the next big shift in work culture

"There is a sense of panic happening across the HR field and across employers as people are rushing to figure things out," one human resources expert said.
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Companies across the country have begun listing salary ranges in their job descriptions after a New York City law took effect Tuesday requiring any employer hiring in the city to do so for all employment opportunities.

Experts and workers say the shift aligns with a broader change in worker attitudes and demands around pay transparency in the United States, especially in the wake of more recent pro-worker labor movements that emphasize boundary-setting and self-advocacy.

The NYC mandate is the latest and likely furthest-reaching legislation requiring that employers post salaries on job descriptions, following a Colorado law enacted last year and a California law set to take effect next year. Because the New York City law covers remote jobs that can be performed from anywhere, many large companies have begun listing ranges on all jobs offered throughout the country.

Mary Jantsch, a human resources adviser who helps startups create infrastructures for pay transparency, recently started a newsletter aimed at helping companies understand compensation trends. Having focused on this work for nine years, she said what’s happening now with pay transparency will most likely mirror what has happened with remote work in recent years.

“Now that a lot of people have worked remotely, you hear people saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I would never go back to an office.’ And I think that will be the same with pay transparency,” Jantsch said. “Once people have gone through the experience of having really transparent conversations and really understanding how their compensation was put together, it would be hard to go back to a company where that doesn’t happen.”

No longer a taboo

A survey published this year on the career website found 98% of 2,000 job seekers in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania want to know the salary before applying for a position. Another survey released this year by Glassdoor found that 63% of employees prefer to work at a company that discloses pay information over one that doesn’t.

From what Jantsch has observed, companies that have been open about pay for a while have typically attracted more talent, enabling them to be more competitive in their recruiting. But as the practice of pay transparency becomes more common and less of a novelty, choosing not to disclose salary ranges will be seen as out of the norm.

“It saves you from having a candidate go through an entire interview process and then get to the end only to find out they can’t make this work,” she said. “I’ve also found that when companies have pay transparency, there’s actually sometimes less conversation that happens about it internally because people aren’t needing to do their own investigation to try and figure it out.”

All of this has proved true for Ethena, a New York City-based compliance training platform that has been disclosing its salary ranges since April. Melanie Naranjo, who heads its "people team," said the company weighed common employer concerns before deciding that the benefits of salary transparency would outweigh any costs.

Since implementing the change, Naranjo said the recruitment process has grown “so much more” efficient now that candidates no longer feel pressure to shy away from discussing salary. She said people had flagged this as both a reason they applied to the company and a reason they ultimately accepted a role there.

“Unfortunately, there is a sense of panic that is happening across the HR field and across employers as people are rushing to figure things out,” Naranjo said. “For so long, employers have been functioning from a world where there wasn’t pay transparency, and so there’s always a lot of fear of the unknown.”

Demanding accountability

Job hunters have already called companies out online for advertising pay ranges that span more than $100,000 between the low and high ends for a role, despite the law requiring them to be posted in “good faith,” which New York City’s Commission on Human Rights defines as ranges that the employer “honestly believes at the time they are listing the job advertisement that they are willing to pay the successful applicant(s).”

Naranjo said she understands the shift won’t be easy for most employers. But eventually, companies that currently allow wide-ranging pay differences among employees will feel both internal and public pressure to address these discrepancies and likely make adjustments.

Naranjo said she has noticed employers expressing fears that after listing their salary ranges, employees might quit if they’re not being paid at the top of the range, or job candidates might refuse to accept anything lower than the highest end of the pay range. But from what she’s observed from companies who had already begun listing pay bands, those concerns haven’t played out in reality.

“What employees want is to understand the how, the why and to have enough context to feel confident that they are being paid equitably,” Naranjo said.

Sean Frazier, a 49-year-old systems engineer in Missouri, said the NYC law is a “huge step” in the right direction. He said he prioritizes passion over pay when it comes to his job hunt, but that he also cannot take a pay cut in the process. It’s grown increasingly frustrating, he said, because he doesn’t know which applications might be a waste of his time and effort because the proposed salary doesn’t align with his desires.

He said listing salary ranges will help candidates better understand the value of their role, too. If he gets an offer that he knows to be on the low end of the spectrum, he’ll feel more comfortable asking for more, whereas the offers he’s received without that context had usually left him little room to negotiate. 

“It’s one of those things that I don’t wish we had to mandate with a law. I really wished that employers would actually offer that as just, ‘we’re honest, we’re open, we’re transparent,’” Frazier said. “But if they’re not going to do that, I do think that there needs to be a law on the books that says you need to let the prospective employees know what they’re getting into.”

Danielle Moulds, a 31-year-old Mississippi resident, said she has struggled to find pay-transparent jobs in counseling after completing her master’s degree. Her best bet was to sift through the salaries posted anonymously on websites like Glassdoor, she said.

“It’s good to see something like this going into effect,” Moulds said. “I think there are a lot of people like me or people in all sorts of situations, like someone who’s looking to find a new job in another field where they don’t know how much it should pay, who would really benefit from this.”

The next several weeks will be important to watch, according to Jantsch, the human resources operations adviser, because to include a genuine salary range in job descriptions takes intentional organizational work to write a compensation philosophy that feels fair to applicants and employees.

“What people really want is to understand: Am I paid equitably?” Jantsch said. “There’s a million conversations about quiet quitting and people taking two full-time jobs. I think all of these future-of-work conversations are related, and a lot of these issues can be solved through pay transparency, but also pay flexibility.”