On April 12, 2016, the Human Resources Professional Association ("HRPA") released a white paper entitled Closing the Gender Wage Gap, a Review and Recommendations. This Paper examined existing pay equity research and the results of a comprehensive survey of 912 HRPA members and serves as a timely reminder for Canadian employers on their legal obligations to ensure pay equity. The Paper concludes with a series of recommendations for both government and business on ending pay equity problems in the Canadian economy.

According to the Paper, Statistics Canada estimates that the wage gap between women and men is anywhere between 12 per cent and 31.5 per cent. The Royal Bank of Canada also estimates that Canadian incomes would soar $168 billion each year if the wage gap was closed. The Paper examines a range of factors that contribute to this pay disparity, some of which include unconscious biases and stereotypes that affect educational and workplace choices for women. The Paper makes a series of over 20 recommendations which include expanding government training on pay equity issues, introducing wage transparency rules, developing a pilot program to combat negative stereotypes and implementing more provincial labour market research.

All federally-regulated employers must comply with pay equity requirements in Part III of the Canada Labour Code and the Equal Wages Guidelines, 1986 (SOR/86-1082). In Ontario, the Pay Equity Act, RSO 1990, c P 7, applies to all employers in Ontario except for private sector employers with fewer than ten employees. It requires that employers establish and maintain compensation practices that provide for pay equity in the workplace. In Québec, the Pay Equity Act, c E-12.001 establishes similar obligations for provincially-regulated employees.

Manitoba, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia have all enacted similar pay equity legislation, while Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and British Columbia have not. In lieu of this legislation, these latter provinces rely on policy frameworks for negotiating pay equity with specific public sector employees. Alberta is the only province with no specific pay equity legislation or policy framework.

All Canadian employers should be aware that federal and provincial human rights legislation also prohibits discrimination in employment. In addition to enforcement mechanisms under pay equity legislation, human rights legislation can be used as a tool to address pay discrimination in both federally and provincially-regulated workplaces.

An employer's pay equity obligations will be fact-specific and depend on the legislative framework governing the workplace. Both public and private sector employers are strongly advised to acquaint themselves with their statutory obligations and consult with a legal professional should they have any pay equity concerns.

Download a copy of the 2016 HRPA pay equity paper.