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Equal pay: what are your rights?

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

Equal pay is a raw and emotive issue and this week it’s come to the fore. If you think you may be paid less than your male/female counterpart, we explain your rights.

The Equal Pay Act 1970 states that workers should receive equal pay for equal work.

However, this week a female BBC editor stepped down after finding out her male counterparts were earning 50% more, thrusting the gender pay gap issue back into the limelight.

In April 2017, new gender gap reporting regulation came into force, requiring employers with 250 or more employees to publish the gap between male and female pay.

While steps are being taken to close the gap, some would say there’s still a long way to go to achieve financial equalisation between the sexes.

For female workers, if you suspect your male counterpart is earning more than you, here’s what you can do about it (male workers can also challenge pay, though this would be very rare).

The most important thing is to collect proof showing that you’re doing equal work to a male colleague, check your job specifications, your contract and consider location too.

Jeremy Coy, associate at Russell-Cooke Solicitors, says: “You need to have evidence that everything about you and them is the same; there must be nothing to differentiate the male and female.”

However, be aware of the ‘material factor defence’ which allows for something different in the job, unrelated to sex, which is why a worker may be paid more.

Coy explains: “If a male worker had a more valuable client so they’re paid more, that could be a ‘material factor defence’. However, we would also want the employer to prove that female workers are able to join that account, which hypothetically means they could also be paid the higher amount.”

The way you find out whether a male counterpart is being paid more than you can cause issues for the female employee.

If for instance you discovered the pay gap after accessing confidential or restricted information, Coy says this could lead to misconduct or disciplinary. However, if an employer is found to breach the laws and ultimately not paying workers fairly, then a worker should be able to bring a claim to an employment tribunal.

However, first of all, you should demand an explanation from the company about why you’re being paid less. You can ask for a salary increase and for arrears going back up to six years, plus interest, Coy says.

If it doesn’t play ball, that’s when you should take the claim to the tribunal. Claims can be brought at any time in the Employment Tribunal if the employment is continuing and within six months of the end of the employment if an employee has left. While it’s free to lodge a claim, you will need to pay solicitor/legal fees which don’t tend to be recoverable, even if you win. Coy says making the claim needs to be “commercially viable” so you get more money back than what the lawyers are charging you.

The amount should be subject to tax at your marginal rate.