The Pay Equity Act: Where Are We at 25 Years Later?

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The Pay Equity Act aims to provide women and men with equal salaries for comparable work. Since its introduction in Quebec in 1997, the salary gap has narrowed by 8%. Here’s a look at how this law works. 

Correcting salary differences  

Even today, jobs traditionally or mostly done by women are sometimes undervalued and underpaid due to prejudices and stereotypes. Quebec’s Pay Equity Act aims to correct the resulting differences in salary. 

This law applies to companies with ten employees or more. Interns, students, and senior management do not count as employees for the purposes of this law.  

The employer must:  

  • correct existing salary differences,   
  • inform employees of the steps being taken,  
  • report to the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST or labour standards, pay equity and workplace health and safety board). 

Examining pay equity 

To examine the existing pay equity situation, an employer must determine which jobs are done mostly by men and which are done mostly by women. The employer must then establish the value of each job based on four factors: qualifications, responsibilities, effort, and working conditions. If there are salary differences between jobs of the same value, the employer must correct these salary differences. The employer must carry out this pay equity exercise every five years.  

An employer who fails to respect their obligations under the Pay Equity Act can face a fine of $1000 to $45,000, even for a first offence. 

The impact of the Pay Equity Act 

Before the adoption of this law, the right to pay equity was protected only by the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. A person who felt their rights were being violated had to file a complaint and had the burden of proving it was justified.  

The adoption of the Pay Equity Act 25 years ago meant that we moved from a system based on individual complaints to a more proactive approach, in which employers must regularly evaluate pay equity and make necessary corrections.  

There has been progress towards the goal of ensuring that people doing jobs traditionally or mostly done by women are justly paid. Between 1997, when the law came into effect, and 2020, the salary gap narrowed from 15.8% to 8.1%. 

If there’s a problem

If an employer does not carry out the pay equity exercise in the timeframe required by law or fails to respect the law in some other way, a complaint can be made. If you are an employee or a representative (for example, a union rep), you can complain to your employer’s Pay Equity Committee, your employer, or the CNESST. 

To learn about how to make a complaint and time limits, you can consult the website of the CNESST