On November 28, 2017, Ontario's Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017, received Royal Assent. While some major changes have already come into effect, others are just around the corner.

This is the third in a series of posts providing a practical overview of the Bill 148 changes to Ontario's Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA), legislation that establishes the minimum rights and obligations of provincially-regulated employees and employers in Ontario. Our first post summarizes the changes to Ontario's statutory leaves of absence under the ESA. Our second post outlines the changes to employee minimum wage, overtime and public holiday pay. Our third post details the expanded scope of "equal pay for equal work", which comes into effect on April 1, 2018.

Changes to the ESA's Equal Pay for Equal Work Provisions

For the past 40 years or so, the ESA has had equal pay provisions aimed at ensuring that employers pay men and women performing similar work equally. For example, if there was a male nurse and a female nurse performing substantially the same job, pay equity existed to ensure they were paid the same.

On April 1, 2018, Bill 148 will expand the scope of this concept so that employers must pay Ontario employees performing similar work equally, regardless of an employee's sex and employment status. "Employment status" in this context refers to differences in the number of hours worked by employees, or in the term of employees' employment, whether permanent, temporary, seasonal or casual. So, for example, Bill 148 will apply the equal pay protections to job categories such that an employer cannot pay a full-time nurse more than a part-time nurse when the roles they perform are substantially the same.

As of April 1, 2018, temporary help agency employees in Ontario must be paid at the same rate as existing help agency client employees performing substantially the same work.

For unionized employees in Ontario, the equal pay provisions summarized in the chart above will not come into effect until the earlier of: (a) the expiry of the applicable collective bargaining agreement; and (b) January 1, 2020.

Practical Implications for Ontario Employers

To ensure compliance with these changes and to minimize the impact of these changes, provincially-regulated employers in Ontario should consider taking steps to:

  • Remember that the new provisions in the ESA limit the ability to vary pay rates based on "employment status" (e.g., full-time vs. part-time) but do not apply to differences in pay rates between employees of the same status (e.g., no right of full-time employee "A" working 40 hours per week to request wage review relative to full-time employee "B" working 40 hours per week).
  • Review current workforce in Ontario to determine if any employees at an establishment are performing substantially the same kind of work requiring substantially the same skill, effort and responsibility under similar working conditions and are being paid different rates.
  • If "yes" to the point above, then determine if any exceptions (e.g., seniority system, merit system, etc.) apply. If none of the exceptions apply, consider increasing pay rates before a wage review request and to ensure employees are being paid equally, regardless of their employment status.
  • Prepare for and anticipate part-time/casual employees asking to have their rate of pay reviewed, in which case you will want to:

    • carefully draft job postings and job descriptions, which can be used later on to justify differences in pay rates (e.g., this will assist in pointing to "any other factor" to distinguish roles);
    • carefully document performance management and employee evaluations, which can be relied on later to differentiate between the quality of work of employees;
    • determine standardized procedures for how employee wage review requests will be handled and how decisions will be communicated; and
    • as there is no guidance on what "other factor" means, be prepared to justify differences in pay rates, but ensure that any factor you wish to rely on to explain a difference in wages paid for similar work does not discriminate against employees.

Stay tuned for our next post, which will discuss the Bill 148 changes to minimize misclassification issues. These changes may impact your use of independent contractors and interns.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.