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Compliance Reminder – Ontario Pay Equity Commission is open for business

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The Pay Equity Act of Ontario requires every provincially regulated employer with ten or more employees to ensure that pay equity exists in the workplace. This is not a one-off compliance requirement. Rather, employers must maintain pay equity on an ongoing basis. This means that both unionized and non-union employers need to re-visit their pay equity compliance when changes occur in the workplace such as the creation of new job classes, significant changes to job duties, elimination of a prior male comparator job class or a business acquisition or reorganization. Pay equity compliance is voluntary and self-directed. However, the Pay Equity Commission operates two programs that permit the Commission to reach out to employers even in the absence of a complaint in order to determine whether the employer is pay equity compliant. These two programs are described briefly below.

Monitoring Program

The Monitoring Program has been underway for a number of years. By September 30, 2010 (most recent date for which information is publicly available), the Monitoring Program had contacted over 3,000 Ontario employers. In the past, the Pay Equity Commission tended to focus on particular industry sectors (for example retail, food) or geographic areas (for example Greater Toronto Area and northern regions of the province). However, the Monitoring Program is currently focussed on contacting employers who were flagged as part of the Wage Gap Program or did not respond to a contact under the Wage Gap Program. Pursuant to the Monitoring Program, the Pay Equity Commission contacts employers to request three years of compensation data and information about jobs, locations and the employer’s pay equity process. The Review Officer can require up to seven years of data where concerns are raised. If the employer is not compliant with the Pay Equity Act, the Review Officer will require compliance pursuant to a set time line.

Wage Gap Program

The Wage Gap Program was launched in 2011. Its goal is to cover all Ontario workplaces to determine whether wage gaps persist. Using the Dunn & Bradstreet listing of employers, the Pay Equity Commission has completed its pilot project of canvassing employers with 500 or more employees. As it winds down phase two, covering employers of 250 to 499 employees, it is now turning its focus to employers with 100 to 249 employees. Employers are not required to produce employee data for the unionized work force. Currently the Wage Gap Program is not contacting employers which have been visited by the Pay Equity Commission within the last ten years. If an employer does not respond by the deadline or the wage data indicates possible pay inequities, the file is referred to a Review Officer.

Our advice

The Pay Equity Act is unusual in that it does not include a limitation period. Therefore, it is possible for the Pay Equity Hearings Tribunal to order an employer to comply retroactively to a date in the early 1990’s, depending on when the company began operations in Ontario and depending on the size of the work force. We strongly recommend that all employers become compliant with the pay equity requirements, generally by selecting a realistic retroactivity date for which the employer has sufficient data about pay, gender dominance and job duties. Be sure that all new positions are evaluated under your job evaluation system. Keep records so that you can show compliance at least to your selected retroactivity date. Build pay equity compliance into the H/R systems by ensuring that all jobs have up to date job descriptions, all positions are evaluated under your job evaluation system and all newly created positions are immediately evaluated and paid according to your job evaluation system.