The Connection Between Pay Equity Legislation and Health and Safety

Pay Equity vs. Equal Pay for Equal Work

The Pay Equity Act requires employers to identify and correct gender discrimination that may be present in their compensation practices and to adjust the wages of employees in female job classes so that they are at least equal to the wages of employees in male job classes when they are found to be comparable in value based on skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions. This is not to be confused with Equal Pay for Equal Work, which is also important, and more straightforward.

Equal Pay for Equal Work means that a man and a woman performing the exact same job (for example, a man and a woman who both work on an assembly line in a manufacturing plant) must earn the same wage despite the difference in sex. Pay equity is not about equal pay for equal work; it’s about comparing the value of jobs typically performed by men or women, then compensating those who fill the job roles according to the job’s value—not its propensity to be a “male” or “female” job.

The Pay Equity Act

In 1967, women were earning .46 for every dollar earned by males. Between 1967 and 1986, efforts were being undertaken to start to close the wage gap. The Equal Wages Guidelines, 1986, (first established in 1978, revised in 1982 and again in 1986) provide guidance on the application of the pay equity provisions under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

The guidelines elaborate on the four factors used to assess the value of work:

  • Skill
  • Effort
  • Responsibility
  • Working conditions

The four guidelines are evaluated and then a value for the work is calculated. The purpose of looking at jobs this way is to determine true job value between a job, such as a daycare provider (typically female-dominated) and comparing it to the value of the job, such as a maintenance person (typically male-dominated). Looking at the jobs and calculating the value based on the four categories listed above may show that the value of the daycare provider’s job class is the same or higher as that of the maintenance person. By pay equity law, the daycare provider must be paid the same or more than the maintenance person. Pay equity is an effective safeguard against under-paying in typically female-dominated industries because the work in those fields has been historically undervalued.

The Pay Equity Act has helped close the wage gap, but not all the way. Since 1998, the wage gap has stalled at 29%.[iv] Although the wage gap doesn’t exist solely due to discrimination, it is a contributing cause. Other factors affecting the gap include differences in hours worked, experience levels, education levels, and different levels of unionization.

What does Pay Equity Have to do with Health and Safety?

The best way to close the wage gap that exists due to discrimination is to follow pay equity legislation; however, even in light of legislation, the gap closure has stalled, and so it stands to reason that in order close the wage gap, more than legislation is required. Employers must work to eliminate male and female-dominated jobs. To start to narrow the gap, women must have access to all jobs, training, and education. Additionally, women must be represented in all jobs.

This is great news for health and safety in the workplace. With women becoming more visible in all industries and sectors, they have started to become more involved in health and safety in the workplace. Diversification is one of the best ways to incorporate fresh new ideas and new and unique health and safety solutions. Complacency is common when it comes to health and safety, and sometimes employers fall into the “that’s how we’ve always done it,” trap. New ideas, thoughts, skill sets, and experiences, brought to the table by men, women, older, younger, new, or seasoned employees are the best remedy for complacency!

Diversification doesn’t just mean ensuring that there’s female representation in your company’s Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) or having a female workplace trainer in place. It also means ensuring that men and/or women are represented in all jobs, that they receive the same training, pay, and advancement opportunities as their counterparts, and that they receive the same encouragement and ability to participate in your workplace health and safety program. Encouraging equal representation in all job roles is an important factor in both reducing the wage gap, but also in promoting an inclusive, equal-opportunity workplace.

Pay equity will ensure that your company’s pay practices are objective. It may also indicate other barriers to employment with your company. Addressing such barriers right away is in the best interest of the company because failing to abide by pay equity or the Human Rights Code is illegal. However, aside from legal implications, any barriers to employment at your company, whether intentional, unintentional or otherwise, may prevent valuable candidates who bring many things of value to the table from ever applying or being interviewed. In today’s competitive job market, your company can’t afford to place such barriers. It is only through diversification, pay equity, equal work for equal pay, and equal access and representation that we may start to see the wage gap decrease, creating a safer and more productive workplace for all.


Written by Jennifer Miller | Curriculum Development Coordinator


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