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International Women’s Day (“IWD”) celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women worldwide. This year’s IWD takes place today, March 8, 2023, with the theme #EmbraceEquity, which focuses on how equity must be at the forefront of discussions on inclusion and diversity, rather than focusing on equality alone.

This blog offers an overview of federal pay equity legislation, and the steps encompassed in that legislation towards achieving pay equity.

Equity vs. Equality – What’s the Difference?

Pay equity means equal pay for work of equal value. Otherwise put, if two different positions contribute equal value to their employer’s operations, then employees in those positions should receive equal pay.​

Pay equity issues are still very much alive and well in Canada. For example, in 2020, Canadian women earned 0.89 cents for every dollar a man earned. That is equivalent to a $3.52 hourly wage rate gap (or 11%) between men and women.

Pay Equity Issues – Our Progress to Date

Section 11 of the Canadian Human Rights Act (the “CHRA”) states that it is discriminatory for employers to establish or maintain differences in wages between male and female employees employed in the same establishment who are performing work of equal value. However, the CHRA is complaint-based, meaning that the individual impacted by the discriminatory practice must be the one to file the complaint and do something about it. The onus is on them, not the employer.

  • The Pay Equity Act’s Purpose

The Pay Equity Act turns the onus described above on its head: it states that employers must be the one to achieve pay equity. Its very purpose includes achieving pay equity through proactive means.

  • Employer Requirements

The Pay Equity Act mandates federally regulated employers, with an average of 10 or more employees, to take a proactive approach to correct gender wage gaps within their organization. Its reach is broad and impacts approximately 4,600 federally regulated employers.

Employers must assess, at set points in time, whether employees in jobs commonly held by women are earning equal pay for work of equal value in their workplace.

Other employer requirements include:

  1. Creating and posting a pay equity plan within three years;
  2. Paying any increases in compensation;
  3. Reporting through annual statements; and,
  4. Updating the pay equity plan at least every five years.

Our laws (including provincial pay equity laws in six provinces such Ontario, Québec, and Manitoba) represent important progress towards achieving pay equity for women.

However, days such as today remind us of the work to be done ahead, and of the importance of continual advocacy towards our collective end goal: a truly equitable society.


This content is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion as neither can be given without reference to specific events and situations. © 2021 Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

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