Equal pay is a legal obligation. In recent months it has hit the headlines, with the BBC notably coming under fire for inequality in pay between the sexes. And you can expect more front pages, as by 4 April 2018 (or 30 March for the public sector) all employers with 250 or more employees are required to report their gender pay gap and bonus data.
Why has there been such an emphasis on equal pay recently? Well, because despite the fact that equal pay is a legal obligation, it’s still blatantly clear that many organisations are simply not conforming to the legislation. Women are, despite huge advances in equality in the workplace over the past 30 years, still coming up short when it comes to the pay gap. No longer content to simply ‘shut up and put up’ with this discrimination, women are now voicing their anger over what is a clear violation of the law, and fundamentally unjust treatment when it comes to the monthly pay packet.
What does equal pay mean?
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) outlines that employers must:
“Give men and women equal treatment in the terms and conditions of their employment contract if they are employed to do:
- ‘Like work’ – that is work that is the same broadly similar
- Work related as equivalent under a job evaluation study
- Work found to be of equal value in terms of, skill or decision making
Equal pay doesn’t just refer to the basic pay packet. It also covers extras including:
- Rates for overtime
- Hour of work allocated
- Access to pension schemes
- Annual leave entitlement
And it is not just about ensuring men and women are paid the same for the same or a similar job, either. It also relates to other groups protected by law, such as people with a disability or from different ethnic backgrounds.
What can and can’t employees discuss regarding pay?
The Equality Act 2010 states it is unlawful for an employer in Great Britain to prevent employees from having discussions to establish if there are differences in pay. However, an employer can require their employees to keep pay rates confidential from people outside of the workplace.
Employers also need to ensure that any discussions about equal pay are protected. No one should be victimised following a request for information about pay for the purpose of making a claim of discrimination.
Legal help for employees who think they are not receiving equal pay
The law is there to support individuals who are not receiving equal pay. However it is a complex area, so you should speak to an employment law specialist for advice if possible.
Generally, you can claim for up to six years of lost earnings, but there are strict time limits. That means it makes sense to get expert legal advice as quickly as possible.
To start with, you don’t have to make an official complaint but could speak to your employer informally. If this does not resolve the issue talk to a solicitor to discuss the possibility of mediation before deciding whether to take your case to an employment tribunal.
When making a tribunal claim it makes sense to have someone in your corner with a thorough understanding of the law. They can give valuable advice and, depending on what you agree, their fees could be taken from the amount that you win from your employer if your case is successful.
Legal solutions for businesses
For any business, complying with the law around equal pay is essential. Failure can leave your business open to costly litigation as well as seriously affecting your reputation in the eyes of staff, customers, shareholders, and the public.
The laws around equal pay are extremely complex and ever changing. This can leave your business wide open to claims, so it’s important to stay up to date with all current legislation.
Seeking expert advice from an employment law specialist can give businesses of all sizes the tools needed to meet all legal obligations. This can include:
- Putting the right policies in place
- Ensuring contracts are robust
- Delivering appropriate training for all staff
Your legal team can also:
- Help you carry out an Equal Pay Questionnaire to establish the situation
- Advise you of the strength of any case and whether it makes business sense to settle a claim before tribunal
- Help you identify your defences
- Ensure that all the strict timings for evidence are complied with
If you receive warning of an equal pay claim you should seek legal advice as quickly as possible. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. But be cautious as if you attempt to deal with the situation without taking professional advice, you could say something that is used against you in the future.
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