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We have the same job, but I get paid less. What do I do? Add to ...

THE QUESTION

In Ontario, I work at a utility in a middle-management position, in a group of three people who do the same job – often swapping projects to balance workload, filling in for each other when necessary. However, one of us is paid at a grade higher. Several supervisors, over an 18-month period, have been unable to give me a reason for the discrimination, other than that the vice-president will not approve any grade changes. All have agreed the fair thing would be to raise my grade level. Other than look for a new job, which I am doing, do I have any recourse, either as an employee or a former employee?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Colleen Clarke

Corporate trainer, career specialist

Utility companies and government jobs are usually well-regulated for pay equity. Chances are, each of the three people in your group started with the company in different years, have varied education and possibly varied work experience and skills which means each salary is commensurate with the pay offering at the time of signing on. As two of you are in a lower pay grade, examine the different criteria against the higher paid manager to see if you can determine the variance.

Management agrees that a pay-grade increase would be appropriate yet, nothing is forthcoming. Are frozen wages or cutbacks in effect? It is important that you continue to perform at a high level so when the monies are available to move the two of you up, you’ll have a litany of accomplishments to speak to in a performance evaluation.

There is more than one way to be compensated for a job well done. Are perks an alternative to a monetary increase? More vacation time, added health care, a company car, cell phone payments, professional development or conferences.

Look for a new job if that is your druthers. As far as recourse or bargaining power with this company is concerned, I would doubt you have any. Once you leave a company you have zero recourse.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Daniel Lublin

Partner, Whitten & Lublin Employment Lawyers, Toronto

Not all discrimination is illegal. An employer can choose to pay some employees less than others, or pay some employees more, even for the exact same work.

Pay inequity, per se, is not inherently illegal. However, if the motivation for differential pay grades or grade levels is in any way related to one or more of the specifically listed grounds of discrimination in provincial or federal human-rights legislation, then it is illegal and your employer would be in very hot water.

Illegal discrimination is differential treatment based upon personal characteristics, such as age, race, gender, religion, illness or disability, sexual orientation and several other defined grounds.

If your employer is paying you less because of your religion, for example, this is illegal and contrary to human-rights laws. However, if your employer is paying your colleague more because he or she possesses a greater educational background, for example, there is nothing inherently illegal about it.

Let’s assume for one minute that your pay inequity is illegal. There is specific pay-equity legislation in Ontario that contemplates an investigation and enforcement of your complaint, even after you leave your job. Or you could file a claim with a human-rights tribunal, which also specifically forbids employers from engaging in any form of retaliation against you.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com

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