Pay Equity exercises and audits: a step-by-step guide

Are you required to conduct a pay equity exercise or audit for your business in the near future? Not sure where to start? No need to panic! Just take one step at a time – and know that we are here to support you throughout the process! 

Even if you already had a pay equity exercise, this article is still relevant because of the Pay Equity Act amendments that came into effect on April 10, 2019.

What exactly is pay equity?
Let’s start by saying what pay equity is not. Pay equity does not mean:

  •  Paying employees at the same rate regardless of their performance or seniority
  • Comparing the pay of men and women who are working in the same job.

The Pay Equity Act seeks to redress the historical wage gaps between jobs that are typically male and those that are typically female. The comparison is made between jobs and not between the individuals in those jobs. Pay equity forces us to review the value of every job in the business to ensure that it is being paid what it’s worth.

When is a business subject to the Act?

Every business employing an average of 10 or more employees during a one-year period becomes subject to the Act and needs to conduct a pay equity exercise. Some employees are excluded when calculating the average number of employees. The table below will come in handy when you reach this step in the process. The table is intended as a summary. The CNESST Guide provides details in section 2.2 "notion de personne salariée".

Types of employees included or excluded in the calculation of the average
Employee Type Included Excluded
Business owners   X
Part-time/occasional employees X  
Student employees


during the academic year


during their vacation periods

Employees on leave (maternity leave, sick leave, unpaid leave) X  
Employees related to the business owner X  
Interns   X
Senior managers   X

The simplest way to calculate the average number of employees is as follows:

  1. Determine the number of employees for each pay period
  2. Add up the number of employees from all pay periods
  3. Divide the total by the number of pay periods. 

When does the pay equity exercise need to be carried out?

Once the 10-employee average has been reached, your business must complete the pay equity exercise within a period of four years, starting on January 1 of the next year.

For instance, if you had an average of 10 employees in 2018, your deadline for completing the exercise is December 31, 2022.

The CNESST has created a useful deadline calculator that will help you calculate the correct time frame for your business.

I have determined that my business is subject to the Act. What do I do now?
Please note: Our focus here is on the obligations of businesses with fewer than 50 employees. If you have more than 50 employees, you face additional obligations. Please contact us for further information. 

Before you start
We suggest that you gather the following information and have it handy to facilitate your pay equity exercise.

  • A list of your employees, including the following information for each one:
    • gender;
    • hourly wage;
    • job description;
    • list of monetary value benefit entitlements (group insurance, RRSPs, vehicles, cell phones, etc.)
  • A list of all jobs within the business;
  • You also need to be well versed in the tasks and prerequisites associated with each job (qualifications, responsibilities, effort involved and working conditions).

Step 1: Make a list of your job classes


The first step is to draw up a list of job classes. Later in the exercise, this information will be crucial and decisive because it is these job classes that will be evaluated and then compared.

A job class may include a number of positions as long as they share all the following characteristics: 

  • similar duties or responsibilities;
  • similar qualifications;
  • same compensation, that is, the wage rate or pay scale is the same.

Here is an example: A mechanical workshop foreman will not be in the same class as mechanics, even though the foreman may perform mechanical work. The responsibilities are not similar because the foreman also has a supervisory role.

If you are not sure, it would be advisable to create separate job classes.

Step 2: Determine the gender predominance for each job class

The goal of pay equity is to compare predominantly female job classes with predominantly male job classes. This means that you must assign a predominance to each class. While it is possible for a job class to be equally male and female, this happens only rarely.

The gender predominance analysis takes the following four factors into consideration:

  • The stereotype associated with this job type.
  • The rate of representation within the class: At least 60% of employees in the job class are of the same gender.
  • Significant gap between the rate of representation of women or men in the category and their rate of representation in the company.
    • For example: Women represent 55% of employees in the “Clerk” class while they represent 5% of all company employees. 
  • The historical evolution of the incumbency rate for the position. For example: over the past 10 years, the bookkeeper position has always been filled by a man.  

There is no single determining factor. All relevant factors must be taken into account when making a decision.

Specific provisions apply if the gender predominance is the same for all job classes in the business. Please contact your CFIB Business Counsellor for advice on how to proceed in this scenario.

Step 3: Determine the value of each job class


Analyzing the value of jobs requires taking four factors and their subfactors into account. Each factor must then be weighted and assigned a weight value that will be used when making the final calculation of the value.

Since the weighted value of the four factors must be the same for all job classes, it is important to ensure that the factor weighting is aligned with the business’s mission. The weighting must also be neutral, i.e. it must not favour male-dominated job classes over female-dominated job classes and vice versa.

The following table lists the factors and sub-factors that should be used in your evaluation. We also indicate the weighting that should be associated with each factor.

Factors, subfactors and weighting
Factor Subfactors % of Total Weight
Qualifications Training 
Dexterity and coordination
20 - 35 %
Responsibilities Accountability
25 - 30 %
Effort involved Intellectual effort
Concentration and sensory attention
Physical effort
20 - 40 %
Working conditions Drawbacks and risks 5 - 15 % 

This is the stage where you will likely find CNESST’s software package to be particularly useful because it calculates the value of each job class based on your answers to the questions about factors and subfactors.

Step 4: Calculate the total compensation

Total compensation is made up of the following: 

  • Base wage: Must take into account the maximum wage rate or the maximum pay scale.
  • Flexible pay: Commissions, gratuities, bonuses, fee-for-service or piecework pay. 
  • Monetary value benefits: Group insurance and pension plans, company-supplied vehicles, payment of professional dues, paid sick leaves, etc.

Note: If all job classes have access to a particular monetary value benefit, there is no need to factor this benefit into your calculation because it will not affect the results.

Step 5: Compare job classes and calculate wage gaps


If you use the software package, it will select the classes that need to be compared and calculate the wage gaps according to the method you have chosen.

There are two comparison methods, and you are free to choose either. However, you must use the same method throughout the entire process. Once you have chosen a method, you must never lose sight of the intent of the Pay Equity Act.

1-    Global Method
This method compares each predominantly female job class with the earning curve of all predominantly male job classes.

Here is an example taken from the CNESST’s pay equity guide:

2-    Individual Method
This method compares each predominantly female job class with the predominantly male job class or classes identified as a comparator or as comparators. If there is no predominantly male job class of equal value of a predominantly female job class, the comparison must be made with the job(s) with the closest values. Salaries must be proportional. The Act does not dictate a calculation method, but the CNESST guide provides several examples.

Step 6: Pay the adjustments

If it emerges from the process that you will need to make pay adjustments to your employees, you must proceed to do so. The Act states that these adjustments apply only to predominantly female job classes and that the compensation for a predominantly male job class cannot be reduced to achieve pay equity.

Employers can choose to make the adjustments in a single payment or spread them out over time. If the decision is to spread the payments out, the following conditions apply:

  • Payments may be spread over a period of not more than four years.
  • Within the time period chosen by an employer, the adjustments must be paid in five or fewer payments. Payments must be of equal value and must always be made on the same date. 

Pay attention to your dates: If you complete your pay equity exercise after your deadline, the pay adjustments must be calculated retroactively and will incur interest.

Step 7: Post the results

The pay equity exercise is not over until you have posted the results. Posting the results lets your employees know that the exercise has been carried out and gives them an opportunity to ask questions. You must ensure that your employees can access the results easily, in either a printed or electronic version. Posting is a two-step process.

First posting: Results must be posted for a 60-day period and contain the following information:

  • a summary of the process that was used;
  • a list of the predominantly female job classes;
  • a list of the predominantly male job classes that were used as comparators; 
  • the percentage or amount of the adjustments payable, or a notice stating that no adjustment is required;
  • the pay adjustment payment procedure, if applicable;
  • information about employee rights and the time limits for exercising them, including the right to make comments and request additional information;
  • information on what recourses are available to employees or a certified association representing employees and the time limits for exercising these recourses;
  • a statement indicating that this first posting will be followed by another.

The second posting must occur no later than 30 days after the first and, like the first posting, it will last 60 days. The following information must be included:

  • an indication of the changes made as a result of the observations received, or a statement to the effect that no changes are necessary;
  • information on what recourses are provided by the Act and the time limits for exercising them.

And then what?

No report to the CNESST is required after you have completed your pay equity exercise. If you are audited or if a complaint is filed, the CNESST might request a copy of your posted results. 

The data you used to conduct the exercise must be kept for six years after you post the results. Not only is this a legal requirement, but the data will prove useful five years down the road when you conduct your pay equity maintenance assessment.

Prepare for the maintenance of pay equity
In 5 years, you will have to assess the maintenance of pay equity in the company. The task will be easier if the company integrates the principles of pay equity into its compensation decisions.

When assessing maintenance, you will need to have a record of events that may have caused one or more wage gaps in the company. It is important to record events as they occur. You will find details on your obligations related to the event log below in this article. 

Complete the Employer's Statement on Pay Equity (DEMES)

The DEMES is a form used to keep the CNESST informed about the company's pay equity compliance. The DEMES must be completed at the same time as the annual update of information to the Quebec Enterprise Registrar. Not every business needs to fill out the DEMES at the same frequency. Refer to the following table to find out what applies to your business.

Company situation Frequency
The company has declared 11 or more employees to the enterprise registrar and has never completed the initial pay equity exercise. Each year
The company has completed the initial exercise. When the pay equity maintenance assessment will be completed.
The company conducted its first pay equity maintenance assessment. At the time of the next maintenance and at each subsequent maintenance.

Conducting the pay equity audit
The pay equity audit process helps to uncover any wage gaps that may have occurred in your business over the years. You will save a huge amount of time if you can easily and quickly access the data used during the pay equity exercise or for the previous audit.

The steps involved in the pay equity audit are the same as those you followed when carrying out your pay equity exercise. However, with the recent amendments to the Act, you are now subject to additional obligations. We highly recommend that you review the table below before undertaking your audit.

Amendments to the Pay Equity Act
The Pay Equity Act was amended on April 10, 2019. The main changes appear in the before/after table below:

  Before April 10, 2019 Since April 10, 2019
Correction of wage gaps Wage gap corrections applied only to the future Correction is retroactive and must be calculated from the date of the event leading to the wage gap. If one or more events created a gap that lasted for only a certain period of time, the gap must be corrected for this period.
Payment of adjustments As a single payment at the time  of the second posting of the results, depending on what was determined during the maintenance assessment.

Two types of adjustments are possible: 
1- Lump sum: employer can spread payment over a four-year period but must observe the following parameters:

  • The first payment must be made on the date of the new posting.
  • All payments must be in the same amount.
  • Payments must be made annually.
  • Interest must be added to the payments.

This method applies only to wage gap adjustments identified between the posting of the results for the initial pay equity work and the posting of the results for the maintenance assesment.

2- Pay adjustments: No change in how these adjustments are paid. This method applies to wage gap adjustments identified at the anniversary date.

Content of posting The posting of the results had to include a list of the events that led to the wage gaps. Listing the events is simply no longer sufficient. Now the posting must also indicate the event dates.
Anniversary date The anniversary date was the start date of the new posting for the initial pay equity exercise. The audit had to be carried out every five years from the anniversary date.

The anniversary date is the start date of the first posting for the initial pay equity exercise. The audit must be carried out every five years from that date.

This change does not come into effect at the same time for all businesses. The various scenarios are outlined below:

1. Your business completed its first pay equity audit prior to April 10, 2019: The change does not apply to you.

2. Your first pay equity audit was supposed to take place between April 10, 2019, and April 9, 2020: The change will apply only to your next audit.

3. Your first pay equity audit is due after April 9, 2020: The change will apply starting with the first audit.

Employee participation process Employee participation was optional.

It is mandatory to establish an employee participation process if:

  • You set up a pay equity committee when carrying out your last exercise.
  • Your business is unionized.

The participation process requires that the employer:

  • share information about the work in progress;
  • implement consultation measures so that employees can ask questions, share their concerns or offer suggestions.

The participation process must be completed no later than 60 days before the results are posted. 

Filing a complaint
A complaint form was available but was not mandatory.  Completing the appropriate complaint form is now mandatory. This also apply for complaint made toward the initial pay equity work.

Date of event leading to a wage gap
Of the various amendments made to the Act, the one that probably has the greatest impact concerns the dates of events that resulted in a wage gap. During the pay equity audit, you are now required to create a list of the events that migth have led to, increased or reduced a wage gap.

What events need to be taken into consideration?
Below are a few examples provided by the CNESST:

  • Creation or loss of jobs
  • Changes in existing jobs or in the requirements for these jobs
  • Negotiation or renewal of a collective agreement
  • Changes in the staffing or structure of the business

Keeping a running register
We strongly urge you to keep a register of events and to begin identifying them as soon as you have completed the previous exercise. You will be glad you did because, in three years, you will likely have forgotten the date when two positions were merged.

A register template, in French, is available on the CNESST website.

When do you have to carry out the pay equity audit?
The audit must be conducted every five years on your anniversary date. You will find information in our section on Pay Equity Act amendments to help you determine the anniversary date that applies to your situation.

Useful Resources!
As you have probably realized, conducting a pay equity exercise or audit is a time-consuming affair. The Act is complex and there is a great deal of information that needs to be collected and analyzed.

Fortunately, there are quite a few resources available. The CNESST has developed several indispensable resources that you can take advantage of:
•    A software package
•    A guide
•    Support service: 1 844-838-0808

CFIB members can count on the support of their Business Counsellors. We are here to answer your questions and to ensure that everything gets off to a good start!