Employment & Labour

Proactive approach needed as pay parity law takes effect

By AdvocateDaily.com Staff

Employers should take a proactive approach to legislative changes that mandate equal pay for equal work, Toronto employment lawyer Miriam Anbar tells AdvocateDaily.com.

As the CBC reports, provisions of Bill 148 — the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017 that came into effect April 1 — force employers to pay part-time, casual and temporary employees at the same rate as full-time workers doing the same job.

Anbar, an associate with Rodney Employment Law, says the changes are potentially significant, particularly for businesses with a high proportion of employees who don't work full time.

“We are telling clients it’s important to be proactive and address these issues head-on,” she says. “Companies need to clearly and concisely review their policies and pay practices, especially if they have a large number of part-time employees.”

Anbar and her team are advising companies to review and update job descriptions to better differentiate individual positions based on the skills, effort and responsibility required.

Bill 148, which also hiked the province’s minimum wage to $14 per hour, came with a promise to boost enforcement, as the government said it would hire up to 175 additional employment standards inspectors.

Ottawa-area Liberal MPP Marie-France Lalonde explained to the CBC that the pay parity provisions are part of an effort to close the wage gap between males and females after Statistics Canada estimated that women receive about 87 cents per hour for every dollar earned by men.

"What we've seen is that, sadly, there are still gender issues, equality [issues], where the women are making less than [men are]," Lalonde said. "In certain sectors, what we've seen is that part-time employees — primarily women and new Canadians — were being asked to do the exact same work as a full-time employee but being paid minimum wage.”

Anbar says businesses that heavily rely on temporary workers will need to be more careful with compliance for certain positions that are already in place at the company.

“For example, if you’re using a temporary bookkeeper because you don’t have one in-house, that may not be as big an issue as bringing in a temporary receptionist when you already have a full-time person in the same position,” she says.

To assist companies getting up to speed with the new legislation, Anbar has carried out audits for clients and expects to be called in again when part-time, casual, and temporary employees begin challenging their pay rates.

While it is crucial that employers respond to review requests, Anbar says best practice for employers would be to establish an objective method of determining subjective factors like merit or quality of production and communicate it to employees prior to granting any differential pay.

“If a discrepancy is found, another thing to be aware of is employers are not allowed to reduce an employee’s wages as a result but must increase the other person’s pay rate,” she adds, noting there are a number of exceptions to the new provisions that may impact the employer’s assessment of the situation.

For example, wage gaps are allowed where the differential pay is based on a seniority or merit system, or if it is tied to the quantity or quality of production, Anbar says. In addition, students under the age of 18 who work less than 28 hours per week are not covered by the law.

Anbar also points out that upon granting differential pay, employers should be keeping comprehensive records of when and why the differential pay was granted to ensure that the employer can, not only justify, but also continue its practice going forward.

The provincial government has promised a review of the changes in 2020, and Anbar says she’s interested to see how it plays out in practice before then, especially when challenges are based on pay disparities between two employees in similar full-time positions.

“It’s encouraging that employers will get a chance to give some feedback about how the new law is impacting them,” she says

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