Just over two years ago, the New York City Council passed a bill that would require most employers in the city to include salary information on all job postings, an effort to mitigate persistent pay disparities that often have an outsize impact on women and people of color. The law was met with swift pushback from corporate leaders and HR professionals, whose hand-wringing led lawmakers to revise the language of the bill and delay enforcement by nearly six months, until November 2022. 

In the time since, the agency charged with enforcing the law has quietly taken employers to task for falling short of full compliance. During its last fiscal year, which ended in June 2023, the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) received over 600 inquiries from the public related to the pay transparency law, a spokesperson told Fast Company. (Any formal investigations into those inquiries are only disclosed as a tally in the agency’s annual report, given the complaints may name specific individuals.) In addition to looking into inquiries from the public, the CCHR also pursues its own complaints against employers, which the agency started sharing publicly last fall. 

Between October 2023 and January 2024, the CCHR initiated 33 complaints against a range of companies, including Tesla, News Corp, and Compass. The complaints also targeted fashion brands and law firms—and even job boards like Indeed and ZipRecruiter, for allowing job postings on their platform that did not include a salary range. To date, the agency has not issued any fines to companies over violations, since the law does not levy civil penalties for first-time offenses, assuming the employer responds to a complaint within 30 days. (The CCHR only updates its public page on a quarterly basis, but of the 33 complaints, more than 12 have been resolved and closed.) News Corp and Compass declined to comment on the complaints brought against them, and ZipRecruiter did not respond to a request for comment prior to publication. An Indeed spokesperson told Fast Company that the CCHR “withdrew its complaint without prejudice and closed the matter” earlier this month. 

On the heels of New York City adopting salary transparency, the state of New York also passed and enacted its own version of the law, which took effect in September 2023. The Department of Labor, which handles enforcement of the statewide law, told Fast Company it has received five complaints so far, but would not comment further because they are currently under investigation. 

Most of the CCHR’s complaints focus on the most blatant cases of noncompliance, citing specific job postings where the companies in question failed to include salary ranges. Compass, for example, has several job listings without compensation details, including two postings that were explicitly flagged by the CCHR. But a number of companies—among them Tesla and News Corp—were also cited for including salary ranges that the CCHR argued “were not made in good faith,” per the language of the law. The agency specifically called out salary ranges that spanned over $100,000, as well as wide bands for hourly pay ($22-$58 an hour, for example). 

Recent data from Glassdoor seems to indicate that yawning gaps in this vein aren’t especially common. In December 2023, the majority of job postings in New York City had narrower salary ranges, according to Glassdoor: Just 0.3% of active daily job listings on the platform had a pay range wider than $100,000, while 2.9% had a range over $50,000. (Across the entire state, these figures were even lower, around 0.2% and 1.9% for pay ranges over $100,000 and $50,000, respectively.) 

But Fast Company found that a number of tech companies and major employers in New York—from Amazon and Google to Deloitte and Citi—continue to post jobs with salary ranges that span around $100,000. Many of the salary ranges are comparable in breadth to the types of ranges that the CCHR claimed were in violation of the “good faith” language of the law. Fast Company reached out to more than 15 companies that declined to comment on the record or offer any explanation for their use of wide salary ranges, though a few shared on background that their compensation was designed to be competitive in an effort to attract and retain the best talent.

Even companies like Tesla—which still faces an open complaint from the CCHR—continue to post jobs that have salary ranges that exceed $100,000 and even $200,000 in some cases. (Tesla does appear to have taken down or edited the specific listings flagged by the CCHR, though the company did not respond to a request for a comment.) Across many of its listings with wider salary ranges, Tesla now provides a breakdown that discloses how different titles correlate to salary, and notes that compensation depends on “multiple individualized factors, including market location, job-related knowledge, skills, and experience.”

But this tactic could still be seen as an attempt to get around the “good faith” language of the law—and in some cases, the titles in the salary breakdown do not match the role that Tesla is trying to fill. A job posting for a Supercharger Design Manager, for example, includes a salary breakdown that seems to have been copy pasted from another listing, ranging from Associate Technical Construction Project Manager ($88,000 – $132,000) to Principal Technical Construction Project Manager ($200,000 – $300,000). In other cases, the level and title for the job is clearly stated in the posting (such as Associate Workplace Specialist), but the salary breakdown includes other titles (Staff Workplace Specialist or Senior Workplace Specialist). 

The challenges of “good faith” compliance

There are plenty of reasons why employers may be testing the limits of the law. As evidenced by the CCHR’s complaints to date, the agencies that are enforcing salary transparency laws are likely more focused on the most egregious violations, so it’s possible they assume that wide salary ranges might escape notice. The language of the law is somewhat vague, leaving room for employers to determine how they define a “good faith” salary range; companies can also risk getting a complaint since they won’t immediately face civil penalties. If other states with salary transparency laws are any indication, few employers end up getting fined: In Colorado, the state had issued $237,000 in fines as of June 2023, most of which was charged to Twitter and Lockheed Martin. (There have been class action lawsuits brought in Washington, however, where the law allows job applicants and employees to recover damages.) 

Still, the vast majority of employers do seem to be complying with the law, at least on the surface: In December 2023, 94% of job listings across New York state included salary information, according to Glassdoor. And the CCHR’s citations for violations of the “good faith” variety—which were included in eight different complaints from October to December 2023—suggest that agencies at the city and state level may start to crack down on companies that have more liberal interpretations of salary transparency laws. A spokesperson from the CCHR told Fast Company that a “good faith” salary range can differ by industry and job, and that liability will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Employers are likely weighing the risks of being out of compliance against a slew of other considerations, many of which echo concerns raised by the business community when the salary transparency law came to pass. “They don’t want to be super specific because they don’t want to tip off their own employees more than they have to,” says attorney Kara Govro, the chief legal HR expert at HR compliance company Mineral. “They don’t want to tip off their competitors as to exactly how much they’re paying, [and] they don’t want to discourage applicants.” Even though the goal of salary transparency laws is to reduce pay inequities, the reality is that some employers may be trying to comply with the law while also ensuring they have some room for negotiation in the pay band. 

In some cases, companies simply don’t have a clear compensation strategy; hiring a compensation consultant and soliciting salary surveys doesn’t come cheap. Mai Ton, who runs her own consulting firm and is often called upon to help companies with their compensation strategy, has found that at some companies, the HR leaders just don’t have the expertise they need to handle compensation. (Ton previously held chief people officer roles at a variety of tech companies.) But more often than not, companies that rely on broader salary ranges likely haven’t determined what level they are hiring for prior to putting out a job listing—an issue that is especially common at tech companies that tend to overhire or seek out very specialized talent. (There’s a reason AI-related job postings have some of the broadest salary ranges.)

“[If you] haven’t done the work yet internally, to designate salary bands by level, you’re going to put out a big band,” says Melanie Naranjo, the VP of People at HR compliance startup Ethena. “Or maybe you’re open to different levels—[you’ll] look at some junior people and some senior people and decide what the right fit is at that point.” 

For prospective employees, this approach may defeat the purpose of pay transparency laws, which are meant to empower them with data going into a salary negotiation. But it might be backfiring for some companies, too. “When people see a range, they always imagine themselves on the high end of it,” Govro says, “which is one of the dangers of advertising these crazy high ranges.” Ton has found that some candidates are pulling out when they are far into the interview process with her clients, in part because they assumed the salary for the role would be higher. “Our recruiters are kind of having these awful conversations toward the finish line where they’re like, ‘No we can’t give you that much,’” she says. 

When salary transparency went into effect, many companies were concerned the law could impact their ability to remain competitive in the marketplace or attract top talent. But one thing they might have underestimated is the internal fallout, as existing employees compare their salaries to the information in public listings. “I think the real reality is that they’ve got an internal PR problem now,” Ton says. “The internal issues are now a little bit more on the surface, and they’re gonna get harder.” Several of her clients have enlisted her help in crafting an appropriate response to employees who want to know why their salary is lower than the range for their job.

“Sometimes I even have to write scripts,” she says. “They’re like, Mai, you’ve got to tell us what to say. They don’t want to get into trouble.” After years of working in Silicon Valley and watching companies blow through their budgets, Ton says she is starting to see a shift in how companies talk about compensation. “I think it’s making people have these discussions and putting things out on the table in a way that they never would,” she says. “With these laws, I just feel like it makes companies have to articulate things. It makes HR or People or recruiting teams a little bit more methodical.” 

Even for companies that are more deliberate in how they approach compensation—taking into account the spirit of the law and its intended effect—the process can be daunting. Hannah Spellmeyer, the chief people officer at Yuga Labs (the web3 company behind Bored Ape Yacht Club), said it was challenging to source the data necessary to implement salary transparency at a smaller company. Since a compensation survey was too expensive at the time, Spellmeyer partly relied on intel from job candidates about their salary expectations. “When you’re a startup, not everybody’s job description falls into a very clean category,” she says. “So it’s just a lot more work than simply posting a salary range, especially if you want the data underlying it to be empirical and objective.” Yuga Labs even put together a comms plan for how it would disclose salary ranges to employees, though Spellmeyer says her team still had to make a handful of salary adjustments after the fact. 

Compensation can be tricky, even for employers that strive to be transparent. Naranjo says Ethena had introduced clear salary bands across the company even before it was mandated by law. “I think people have the impression that market value is this static thing, that every role is worth some specific amount,” she adds. “The reality is that’s not the case. Everything to do with compensation is a combination of art and science.” 

As state and local agencies continue digging into violations of the salary transparency laws, it should become clearer just how effective they are at stemming pay inequities in New York. Employers that are able to circumvent the laws at the moment, or are only required to include salary ranges in specific states, may soon find that they have no choice but to embrace the practice across the board, as more and more states introduce their own salary transparency bills. The city law also allows people to sue if they have claims against their current employers. In the meantime, however, workers already seem to be reaping some of the benefits—whether or not their employers are operating in good faith.

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