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The Gender Wage Gap in Ontario

The gender wage gap remains a pressing issue in Ontario that is often overlooked, reflecting deep-rooted, systemic inequities between men and women regarding earnings. Despite advancements in women’s rights and workplace equality, a disparity exists in pay for equal work. Ontario’s Pay Equity Act aims to address these disparities by ensuring that men and women generally receive the same amount of pay for work of equal value. Please note that the information provided on this page should not be substituted for legal advice, and it is always advisable to consult with an experienced lawyer on these matters to fully understand your rights.

What is the Gender Wage Gap?

The gender wage gap refers to the difference in average earnings between men and women. In Ontario, this gap manifests in various ways, with women often earning less than men for comparable work. Several factors contribute to this disparity, including occupational segregation, differences in work experience, education, and discrimination. Women are frequently overrepresented in lower-paying jobs and underrepresented in higher-paying positions.

Additionally, societal expectations and caregiving responsibilities often put women in a position where they need to take career breaks or work part-time, further impacting their earnings. These caregiving responsibilities are less commonly applicable to men. The gender wage gap is a nuanced issue that reflects broader systemic inequalities. Addressing this discrepancy demands comprehensive strategies, such as policy changes, increased transparency in pay structures, and efforts to challenge stereotypes and biases in the workplace.

How does Ontario’s Pay Equity Act Aim to Address the Gender Wage Gap?

Ontario’s Pay Equity Act was designed to ensure that men and women receive equal pay for work of equal value. This legislation requires employers to evaluate jobs based on skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions and to adjust wages to eliminate gender-based disparities.

Generally speaking, the Act is applicable to all public sector employers and private sector employers with ten or more employees. Employers must develop and implement pay equity plans, which include comparing job classes dominated by women to those dominated by men and making necessary wage adjustments.

The Pay Equity Commission oversees the enforcement of the Act, providing resources and guidance to help employers comply. By mandating fair compensation practices, the Pay Equity Act aims to reduce the gender wage gap and promote equality in the workplace.

What Steps can Employers take to ensure Compliance with the Pay Equity Act?

To comply with the Pay Equity Act, employers can begin by conducting a thorough job evaluation process, assessing the value of each role based on skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions. This evaluation helps identify any gender-based pay disparities. After, employers should develop a pay equity plan that stipulates how they will address these disparities, including specific wage adjustments.

Transparency is vital in these cases; employers must communicate the plan to all employees and ensure ongoing monitoring and adjustment. Training for managers and HR personnel on pay equity principles can also aid in compliance. Employers should keep detailed records of their evaluations and adjustments to demonstrate compliance during audits by the Pay Equity Commission. By proactively addressing pay disparities and fostering an inclusive work environment, employers can contribute to closing the gender wage gap.

Understanding Workplace Investigations

Potential Consequences for Employers who Fail to Comply with the Pay Equity Act?

Employers who fail to comply with the Pay Equity Act may face several consequences, including financial penalties and legal action. The Pay Equity Commission has the authority to investigate complaints and conduct audits to ensure compliance. If an employer is found to be non-compliant, they may be required to make retroactive wage adjustments and pay interest on back pay.

Furthermore, the employer could be ordered to implement a pay equity plan and take corrective actions. Persistent non-compliance can result in further legal action and possibly disciplinary action from regulatory bodies. Aside from legal penalties, non-adherence can harm an employer’s reputation, resulting in reduced employee morale and challenges with attracting and retaining talent. Ensuring compliance with the Pay Equity Act is not only a legal obligation but also a necessary step toward promoting fairness and equality in the workplace.

How can Employees Advocate for Pay Equity in their Workplace?

Employees can advocate for pay equity by becoming informed about their rights under the Pay Equity Act and actively engaging in dialogues about compensation. One useful might be is to request transparency in pay practices from their employer, including how wages are determined and asking whether a pay equity plan is in place.

Employees can also compare their wages with industry standards and with colleagues in similar roles to identify any disparities. Joining or forming employee resource groups focused on equity and inclusion can provide a collective voice to address pay equity issues. If discrepancies are found, employees should document their findings and raise the issue with their HR department or management. In scenarios where internal resolution is not possible, employees can file a complaint with the Pay Equity Commission. Advocacy for pay equity not only helps rectify individual concerns but also supports broader systemic change in the workplace.

Addressing the gender wage gap through legal frameworks like Ontario’s Pay Equity Act is important for promoting workplace equality. Understanding the principles of pay equity and the responsibilities of both employers and employees can help in creating a fairer and more inclusive work environment. The cases discussed showcase the practical application of these laws and the importance of proactive action in maintaining pay equity. If you believe your rights under the Pay Equity Act have been violated, it is highly advisable to consult with a legal professional who can provide the necessary guidance to address your concerns.

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Recent Cases

Ontario Nurses’ Association v. Participating Nursing Homes, 2021 ONCA 148, 154 O.R. (3d) 225

This case involves a legal dispute between the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) and a group of participating nursing homes. The case was dealt with by the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2021. The key legal issue was the interpretation of the collective agreement provisions related to wage increases and benefits, specifically in regard to a “me too” clause. The clause ensures that if one group of employees receives a better deal, the same improvements will be extended to other groups covered by similar agreements.

The Ontario Court of Appeal analyzed the language of the collective agreements and the intention behind the “me too” clause. The Court considered previous arbitration decisions and the principles of collective bargaining, ultimately ruling in favor of the ONA. The Court held that the “me too” clause entitled the nurses and healthcare workers to the same wage increases given to other healthcare workers under different agreements, affirming the arbitrator’s interpretation as reasonable and consistent with collective bargaining principles.

This case and the broader issue of the gender wage gap highlight the ongoing need for fair treatment and equity in the workplace, ensuring that all employees receive fair compensation for their work, regardless of gender.

Ontario (Health) v. Association of Ontario Midwives, 2022 ONCA 458

This case involved a dispute between the Ontario Ministry of Health and the Association of Ontario Midwives (AOM). The central issue was whether the Ministry of Health had discriminated against midwives on the basis of gender by underpaying them compared to other healthcare professionals, thereby violating Ontario’s Human Rights Code. The AOM argued that midwives, who are predominantly female, were paid less than comparable male-dominated healthcare professions despite performing work of equal value. This claim was rooted in historical gender-based wage disparities within the healthcare sector.

The Ontario Court of Appeal reviewed the evidence of pay disparities and the Ministry’s justifications. The Court assessed whether the Ministry’s actions, or lack thereof, amounted to gender discrimination. Key considerations included comparing the compensation of midwives with other healthcare professionals, examining the historical context of midwifery and its compensation to understand systemic gender biases, and evaluating the steps taken by the Ministry to address the wage gap.

The Court found in favor of the AOM, ruling that the Ministry of Health had discriminated against midwives by maintaining a compensation structure that undervalued their work compared to male-dominated healthcare professions. The decision mandated that the Ministry rectify this inequity and ensure fair compensation for midwives.

Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat on behalf of the Treasury Board of Canada (Re), 2023 PEC 1

This case deals with an application under the Pay Equity Act filed by the Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada (TBS) requesting authorization from the Pay Equity Commissioner to establish three separate pay equity plans for employees in the core public administration (CPA).

The Pay Equity Act requires that employers create a single pay equity plan for their entire workforce to ensure equal pay for work of equal value. However, the Act allows for exceptions where multiple plans can be established if deemed appropriate. The Treasury Board sought to create three plans, stating that the CPA’s size and complexity warranted this approach. The proposed plans were: (1) employees represented by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and associated classifications, (2) employees represented by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) and associated classifications, and (3) all other employees, including those not covered by Plans 1 and 2, mostly non-unionized employees. 

TBS argued that there were sufficient male comparator job classes within each proposed plan to allow for valid pay equity comparisons. However, various bargaining agents, including PIPSC and the Association of Justice Counsel (AJC), challenged this, arguing that the quality of comparators within each plan was insufficient to ensure reliable comparisons. 

TBS presented six grounds to justify the need for multiple plans, including the size and diversity of job classes, the administrative burden of a single large committee, and the potential for disputes and delays. TBS also pointed to past challenges in collective bargaining and classification reform as evidence that a single committee would be unworkable.

The Pay Equity Commissioner rejected TBS’s application to establish three separate pay equity plans. The decision emphasized that while multiple plans might be allowed under certain conditions, TBS did not provide sufficient evidence that their proposed approach would achieve the mission of the Pay Equity Act more successfully than a single plan. The Commissioner also stated that the Act includes mechanisms to deal with disputes and ensure collaboration within a single committee, thereby supporting the default requirement for a single pay equity plan.

About the Author

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Jordan Donich

Jordan Donich has been a Lawyer for over 10 years and is a trusted legal analyst by Canadian Media. He is as a leader in Canada’s tech sector for lawyers and developer of Law Newbie. Jordan is a Black Belt with the Japan Karate Association and trained in Krav Maga. He won a Gold Medal at 2004 Canadian National Championships and was published in the National Newspaper Awards.

Jordan has been featured in Forbes and is a member of DMZ Angels in Toronto.