You may have heard the phrase “equal pay for equal work”. In Ontario, this means that an employer cannot pay one employee less than another on the basis of sex when three conditions are met:

(1) They are performing substantially the same kind of work in the same establishment,

(2) The work requires basically the same skill, effort and responsibility, and

(3) The work is performed under similar conditions.

These protections come from the Employment Standards Act, which governs provincial employees. There are, of course, exceptions to who can benefit from these protections. Please note that federal regulated employees have similar protections under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

The goal of “equal pay for equal work” is pay equality. Pay equality means that a male worker and a female worker who have basically the same job should make the same amount of money. For example, a female and a male plumber should make the same amount of money if they’re doing the same work. It is discrimination on the basis of sex if two people perform the same job, but a male earns more than a female (or vice versa).

Let’s review the three conditions outlined above in a bit more detail.

(1) Performing substantially the same kind of work in the same establishment

  • The work does not have to be exact same. The description of the job duties is less important than what work is actually being performed.

(2) Work requires basically the same skill, effort and responsibility

  • Just like above, the skill, effort and level or responsibility doesn’t have to be the exact same between two employees.
  • Skill can mean the knowledge or physical required to perform a job, including education, training, manual dexterity or experience.
  • Effort can be physical or mental, such as physical strength or concentration to do detailed research.
  • Responsibility refers to duties that an employee is accountable for, such as making decisions, supervising others, dealing with money, or monitoring for safety.

(3) Work is performed under similar conditions.

  • This many include the work environment, exposure to inclement weather or other health and safety hazards.

An Important Exception

Employees of different sexes can be paid differently if the reason is a merit system, a seniority system, or a system that measures earning by their individual output.

Is pay equity the same as pay equality?

You may hear about “pay equity” in addition to “pay equality”. They are different ideas. As stated above, equal pay for equal work is a form of pay equality.

On the other hand, “pay equity” is the idea that male-dominated and female-dominated occupations of comparable value must be paid the same if they are within the same employer. In this case, the actual work performed may be very different. However, the jobs are of comparable value when we look at the skill level, effort, responsibility and working conditions involved.

Please note that the Ontario Human Rights Code offers protection to workers on the basis of 16 protected grounds, including age, sexual orientation and disability.  This is in addition to “equal pay for equal work” under the Employment Standards Act.

If you think you are being paid unfairly on the basis of sex, it’s always a good idea to keep records and contact the professional employment lawyer in Toronto at Ball Professional Corporation. We can help you file a claim with the Ministry of Labour or Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, and protect your rights in case your employer pushes back or penalizes you for asserting your rights.