Another lesson learned in equal pay

Having already paid out over £1 billion in equal pay claims, and now facing claims for further millions, Birmingham City Council’s financial crisis is a stark reminder of why it is so important to get equal pay right.

All employers will undoubtably know the basic principle that men and women must receive equal pay for doing equal work. However, it is possible for employers to be caught out by some complications of the rules:

  • Associated employers: equal pay applies across associated employers. This is not about overall control, but also where one organisation sets the pay and benefits for both entities.
  • Pay: equality extends to payment for holidays, overtime, redundancy, sickness and performance. Entitlement to benefits, such as company cars, must also be on an equal basis, along with pension funding and entitlement.
  • Terms and conditions: the whole employment package needs to be equal – not only salaries. For example, working hours and annual leave allowance must be equivalent.
  • Right to equal pay: it does not matter whether employees are full-time or part-time when considering equal pay; apprentices and agency workers are also included.

Equal work

Where equal pay rules become less black and white is in the arena of equal work. This is where Birmingham City Council came unstuck. The original dispute in 2012 arose because bonuses given to staff in traditionally male-dominated roles discriminated against female workers working in roles such as cleaners, teaching assistants and catering staff.

Comparisons are not necessarily on an exact like-for-like basis. It might be that the level of skill, responsibility and effort needed to do work are equivalent, or work might simply be of equal value, even if the roles seem different, such as comparing warehouse and clerical jobs.

Differences in pay

Although differences in pay terms and conditions are permitted, this must have nothing to do with gender identity. For example, someone in a similar role could be paid more if they are better qualified or are employed in a location where recruitment is difficult.

One way for employers to avoid equal pay disputes is to be transparent in regard to pay and grading systems. Job descriptions should be up-to-date and accurate.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) has published guidance for employers on equal pay on its website.