HR Q&A: Avoiding subjective compensation

Question: Can we pay a married non-management employee more than the unmarried managers? The married employee has a family to support, and the managers only have to take care of themselves.

Answer: In this day and age, it is surprising this kind of question comes up. If you pay a married non-management employee more than the unmarried manager based on the fact that the married employee has a family to support and the unmarried manager doesn’t, you are putting your company at risk for complaints of discrimination based on the Ontario Human Rights Code. The Code prohibits actions that discriminate against people based on a protected ground in a protected social area (such as employment) based on: age, ancestry (colour, race), citizenship, ethnic origin, place of origin, creed, disability, family status, marital status (including single status), gender identity, gender expression, receipt of public assistance (in housing only), record of offences (in employment only), sex (including pregnancy and breastfeeding), and sexual orientation.

Conducting job evaluations and developing a good salary administration system prevents complaints about unfair salaries and discrimination. It provides a system to compensate people fairly and consistently based on the knowledge, skills, and attributes that are necessary for the job. The information can be used to ensure fair pay practices internally but also externally when compared to other companies to ensure competitive salaries.

Job evaluations involve looking at specific groups of jobs and analyzing a number of areas such as: complexity of skills, education, experience, physical and mental demands, degree of responsibilities such as consequence of errors, supervision exercised, working independently, financial responsibilities, and so on. Each group of jobs is reviewed based on the requirements of the job and not based on the individual or individuals in the job. For example, just because Sally has a PhD, doesn’t mean that a PhD is required to successfully perform on the job. Once this is completed you can see clearly and objectively, which positions should be paid higher than others, to ensure fair and non-discriminatory pay practices. The added benefit of a well conducted job evaluation includes clear job requirements which help with hiring the right candidates, enhancing job performance through clearly defined responsibilities and performance standards, determining training needs, increasing morale through accurate performance appraisals and pay practices, and compliance to legislation such as pay equity.

Don’t be tempted to pay people on subjective feelings of worth and need. If you evaluate positions based on objective criteria, you will steer clear of complaints of discrimination and unfair pay practices, which can negatively impact your company internally through decreased morale, and externally through loss of reputation from unfair and discriminatory pay practices.

Answer provided by Joanne Royce, prinicipal of Royce and Associates. She is also a volunteer Executive Board Member with the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) Halton Chapter. Her twitter handle is: @joanneroyce.

This ongoing series of advice columns written by members of the The Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA). If you have a general HR question you’d like answered, e-mail it We’ll pass the questions along to HRPA for consideration as the subject of a future article.

For more specific quetions, HRPA’s EZ HR small business service connects companies with human resources information experts and provides employment practices liability insurance designed to protect businesses from employment- or discrimination-related allegations.

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