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All is fair in equal pay?

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Recent months have seen numerous news stories revolving around equal pay, with the BBC notably coming under fire for inequality in pay between the sexes.   With the Gender Pay Gap Report deadline looming on 4th April 2018 (which is when all employers with 250 or more employees are required to report their gender pay gap and bonus details) this is not the last of the stories we will see. Howard Robson, Partner in the Employment team, explains here the legal obligations on employers when it comes to equal pay, and guidance for employees who feel they are not receiving equal pay.

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?

Equal pay is a legal obligation on employers, with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) outlining 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 or broadly similar
  • Work rated as equivalent under a job evaluation study
  • Work found to be of equal value in terms of effort, skill or decision making.”

Equal pay doesn’t just refer to the basic pay packet. It also covers extras including overtime rates, hours of work allocated, bonus schemes, pensions schemes and annual leave. 

While the focus recently has been on gender inequality, there is also a legal obligation for employers to ensure equality across all 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.

Any discussions of this nature are known as protected conversations, meaning that the individual should not be victimised following a request for information about pay for the purpose of making a claim of discrimination.

Employees not receiving equal pay

The law is there to support individuals who are not receiving equal pay.  However, it is a complex area, so we would always advise legal advice is sought before making any claims against your employer, particularly as some claims are bound by strict time limits, such as claims for lost earnings.  

To start with, it may be more prudent to have an informal conversation with your employer before making an official complaint.  If this does not resolve the issue, an employment lawyer may advise the possibility of mediation, depending on your personal situation, before taking the case to an employment tribunal.  

Employers not paying equal pay

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 so it is vital you stay up to date not only on the legislation itself, but also on relevant case law that may give insight into particular circumstances or exemptions. 

We would strongly advise all businesses review their pay structures, even if they are not required to under Gender Pay Gap Regulations.  By reviewing this, as well as the supporting documentation, employers are able to confirm they have the right policies in place, that employment contracts are robust and that the adequate training is being provided for the staff and their managers.  It may be that you implement an Equal Pay Questionnaire to establish any shortfalls. 

If an employer does receive a claim against them for discrimination due to unequal pay, we would strongly suggest legal advice is sought.  This is a complicated area of employment law, and legal support can advise you as to the strength of the claim being made, whether it would be in the best interests to settle a claim and ensure the strict timelines are adhered to. 

For more information about equal pay in your business, you can contact Howard or the Employment Litigation team on 02380 7177717 or email


This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.