Is it a good idea for employees to keep their salaries secret?

Jan 29, 2016

The top-drawer salaries of some CEOS de-motivates employees, according to a recent UK survey.

That was the big news. But the survey also raised larger questions about pay transparency. An astonishing 7 out of 10 employees wanted to see more transparency in wages, and more than half wanted complete disclosure at all levels of their company.

Believe it or not, virtually complete transparency is the norm in some working environments. For example, in most Federal and Provincial departments, employees are unionized and paid based on a grid. Curious folks can ballpark their co-worker’s salaries using job codes. And much of management is on the sunshine list, which means the boss’s take-home is just a few clicks away.

And the sky hasn’t fallen. In fact, those environments tend to have a flatter pay hierarchy (whether or not that’s caused by salary transparency is another question, obviously.)

What about in other (non-unionized, private sector) working environments?

There is not a default rule that requires or forbids internal disclosure of a company’s pay structure.

Employers generally treat pay information as private, and there is good reason for doing so. Employers may also want to discourage comparisons, because in some cases it can lead to friction and politicking.

Employees in some cases may even be forbidden from disclosing their own salaries to their coworkers, either by company policy or by their employment contracts. Such a term is very likely enforceable, and depending on the wording of the provisions could extend to wage voyeur websites like

Employees who are thinking about sharing information about their salary with coworkers should give it some thought before doing so. Firstly, they need to be aware of their obligations arising from corporate policy and their employment contract or collective agreement. Secondly, they need to think about the dangers of poisoning their relationships with coworkers and management. Nonetheless, there may benefits to doing so, especially employees are looking for leverage in salary negotiations.

coworkerEmployers may wish to make available salary ranges of its various jobs or departments in a way that respects their employees’ privacy. This has a number of potential benefits, including dispelling wage myths and helping employees plan their own career trajectories. Of course, such disclosure has the very real possibility of backfiring, especially if it would reveal no coherence in pay.

For both sides, the bottom line is — as is often the case — proceed with caution.

Symes Street & Millard specializes in employment law and has represented both employers and employees in many legal cases.


Photo cc by Tony Stovall

Artist resale rights are a labour issue

Jan 19, 2016

suan murtaughA number of Canadian creative-types are pushing for a new law which would allow artists to collect 5 percent of the profit made on the re-sale of their works.

While technically the provisions would be part of Canada’s copyright regime, such laws are really about the relationship of maker to object, and hence labour to the economy.

A similar scheme has been introduced elsewhere. In those jurisdictions, copyright law provides for a resale fee to be paid to an artist where the work is an original (or in some cases an artist multiple or art print), and the work is re-sold through a gallery or art auction. Private re-sales do not qualify under most European legislation, nor do sales to museums.

Interestingly, the European directive which sets resale framework for the European Union provides that the artist cannot sign away her rights to resale revenues. The directive describes it as:

an inalienable right, which cannot be waived, even in advance, to receive a royalty based on the sale price obtained for any resale of the work, subsequent to the first transfer of the work by the author.

Describing artist resale rights as “inalienable” may sound a bit high handed, but the provision is designed to address a practical problem: that many working artists have so little bargaining power that they can’t freely negotiate to keep the resale rights. The state — at least in the European Union directive —therefore forbids artists from signing those rights away.

There is a parallel between artist resale rights and minimum standards legislation like the Employment Standards Act and Part Three of the Canada Labour Code. The rights contained in the ESA are “inalienable” in the same way: a worker is not allowed to contract for less than the ESA minimums, and any clause in a contract which runs afoul will not be enforced by a court. One caveat, of course, is that the ESA has a long list of exceptions — occupations which are partially or totally excluded from its protection.

But at heart, the prohibition on contracting out of the ESA is animated by the same fear as the “inalienable” artist resale right — namely that unequal bargaining power would otherwise lead to many employees being pressured to sign away their rights.

Symes Street & Millard specializes in employment law and has represented both employers and employees in many legal cases.

Illustration cc by Susan Murtaugh

Companies should not ignore their accessibility obligations

Jan 07, 2016

Woman Climbing StairsMany employers have new obligations under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act starting this month.

The Ontario government is phasing in regulations to remove barriers for people with disabilities. For many small businesses, there are new accessibility requirements which came into force on January 1, 2016 or will come into force on January 1, 2017. These new obligations mandate companies to train staff, to provide communications in an accessible format, and to change the way they recruit and hire. These requirements are mandatory, and fines can range from $500-100,000 for corporations which fail to comply.

Symes Street & Millard can help employers meet their obligations under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We have many years of experience helping clients comply with administrative requirements like those found in the AODA. We help employers every day to comply with the AODA and other legislation which impacts workplaces, including the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Employment Standards Act.

Photo of woman climbing stairs by Dennis Skley, used under cc licence

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