Canada: Nova Scotia Department Of Labour And Advanced Education Considering Changes To The Labour Standards Code

The Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education is considering expanding the equal pay provisions of the Labour Standards Code (the "Code"), and its ability to enforce compliance with the Code through the imposition of administrative penalties.

The Code currently has equal pay provisions that prohibit employers from paying women differently from men for doing substantially the same work. There are exceptions to this rule that permit differences in pay if they are based on objective criteria, such as a seniority system, a merit system, a system that measures wages by quantity or quality, or any other factor other than sex (section 57 of the Code). The Department of Labour generally learns of violations of this rule through employee complaints, and it reports that it receives very few of these complaints. Under the Code, the Department of Labour has no authority to impose fines on employers for non-compliance.

The suggested amendments, which are still in discussions, would change the equal pay provisions to shift the onus from a complaints-based enforcement system to a reporting system that would require employers to track and report wage disparities. The suggested amendments would also expand the focus of equal pay to prohibit wage disparity that is based on other characteristics, in addition to gender. These other characteristics may include such things as ethnicity and disability, but any characteristic to be included in the new amendments is yet to be determined.

The Department of Labour has suggested that reports employers would be required to create must include the following employee information:

  • name
  • position
  • compensation
  • gender
  • other protected characteristic (it is yet to be determined which other characteristics the amendments would require to be reported)
  • employment status (full-time/part-time/casual)
  • seniority
  • any reason for a difference in pay with other employees in comparable positions

In addition, the proposed amendments would prohibit employers from:

  • asking about a prospective employee's previous salaries
  • banning employees from discussing or disclosing their wages
  • taking reprisal against employees who enquire about or discuss wages

Finally, the proposed amendments would provide the Department of Labour with the authority to inspect and investigate employers and to issue administrative penalties (fines) against employers for non-compliance. The Department of Labour has stressed that the administrative penalties would be used as a last resort, and it remains committed to working with employers to understand any amendments to the Code and help them be compliant.

Will these amendments represent a significant burden to your organization or require a significant change in existing practices? Do you currently have practices in place that address this issue in your workplace, or is there another way to achieve the desired outcome of pay equity in a less disruptive way? Input may be provided to the Department of Labour on the proposed amendments to the Code by sending feedback to Cynthia Yazbek, Executive Director of Labour Services (Cynthia.yazbek@novascotia.ca).

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.

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