Today is Equal Pay Day. This bittersweet holiday draws attention to the ongoing disparity between men and women’s pay. While pay discrimination has been illegal for decades, the income cap persists. In Ontario, the gender pay gap ranges from industry to industry, but averages just below 30%. The gap is wider for racialized, indigenous, trans and disabled women.
Pay transparency legislation is among the many, many recent promises and changes made by Ontario’s government as the provincial parties jockey for votes in the upcoming election. The Ontario Liberals’ planned law would ban employers from asking job applicants about past wages, require employers to include salaries in public job postings and make it illegal to punish employees for disclosing their wages. In addition, certain large employers would be required to report their wages.
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE?
Personally, I agree with the Equal Pay Coalition: the government should go further if it wants to achieve pay equity. Perhaps most importantly, the proposed legislation will apply only to public service and large employers (at first, only to those with more than 500 employees). Most Canadian workers, particularly most women workers, don’t work for large corporations any more. In fact, 98% of registered Canadian employers have 100 employees or less. This means that the vast majority of employers won’t have to file a pay transparency report at all, even in the long-term.
To be fair, every little bit helps…a little. If you visit an online job board today, you’ll notice that the most postings don’t offer prospective applicants any idea of the wages they might earn. This leaves women and other marginalized workers at a disadvantage. Studies have repeatedly shown that either women don’t negotiate their starting salary or raises or else that they risk being penalized when they do. Often conversations about starting pay begins with a question about what you earned at your last job. If you were underpaid at your last job, you risk perpetuating your low pay when you answer truthfully. Of course, the new law would leave out the many workers who find jobs through word of mouth or networking.
On the job, many Ontario employers rely on confidentiality rules built into their employment contracts or workplace policies to prevent employees from comparing wages. This leaves employees in the dark when negotiating a raise, or exposes them to discipline if they share helpful information with a co-worker. The proposed law would provide some protection to workers seeking information to help them assess whether they’re being paid fairly.
THE LAW TODAY
New laws could provide workers with more information, and increase employer accountability. However, employees already have some tools available to them to challenge pay discrimination.
The Ontario Human Rights Code makes it illegal to discriminate against employees based on gender. Workers who discover that their male colleagues are making more may want to consider filing a Human Rights Tribunal Application seeking compensation for both the wages they missed out on and for the discrimination they’ve experienced.
Some Ontario workers at large or public sector employers may have further recourse at the Pay Equity Tribunal – and may be able to access more information about wage rates in their workplace through the Pay Equity Regime.
- Bill 203, Pay Transparency Act, 2018
- Ontario Human Rights Commission, Human Rights at Work 2008 – Third Edition, IV. Human Rights Issues at All Stages in Employment, “7. Pay, Benefits, Dress Codes and Other Issues“
- Equal Pay Coalition, “Equal Pay Coalition Demands Change To Strengthen Ontario’s New Pay Transparency Act“
Note: some workers in Ontario are covered by federal laws because of the nature of their work. This article deals only with provincial legislation. Check with an employment lawyer if you’re not sure which laws apply to your workplace.
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