Bryony Goldspink quoted by HR Magazine on equal pay claims

Tuesday 15th August 2023

Bryony Goldspink, partner and employment law expert at Gordons, has been quoted by leading HR title HR Magazine discussing equal pay claims.

Even though the Equal Pay Act was introduced in the UK more than half a century ago, many organisations are still failing to pay male and female staff equally.

One of the most recent examples is Birmingham City Council, which is being forced to payout due to historic pay iniquities, and the issue represents a ticking time bomb for many other employers.

Today around four out of five companies in the UK still pay their male employees more than female equivalents. According to government statistics, the median pay gap stands at 8.3 per cent.

Although many organisations have successfully plugged the gap, for example the British Heart Foundation, other have faced significant ramifications relating to claims.

Outlining the issue, Bryony said: “Equal pay claims are extremely costly. Large group claims, such as those faced by Birmingham City Council, can last several years and result in an employer paying out millions of pounds in compensation.

“Added complexity comes from the fact that claims don’t emanate solely from those in the same role, but those in different job positions deemed to be of equal value by reason of the effort, skill and decision-making involved.”

This situation is being faced by major retailers, such as Next, after more than 2,000 store staff launched legal action.

The employees – current and former sales consultants – argued their roles were of equal value to the work of Next’s warehouse operatives and thus, should be paid at the same rate.

To help protect employers from the risks associated with equal pay claims, Bryony advises: “There’s a direct role for HR teams to play to ensure they are protected against the risk of equal pay claims.

“Equal pay audits can examine rates of pay, highlight discrepancies and identify high risk pay gaps, enabling remedial action through pay reviews.”

An additional measure for companies to use to protect themselves is conducting a Job Evaluation Study. Bryony explains that: “This is an exercise where jobs are ranked and grouped into salary bands. This is the most comprehensive way to remedy equal pay issues and can be a defence to equal pay claims.

“However, Job Evaluation Studies and equal pay audits can carry risk so should not be carried out without expert advice. The results are disclosable if not conducted under legal professional privilege and any identified pay gaps which are not remedied could result in claims.

“High risk areas to look out for include men and women are being paid different amounts in the same role without clear justification, as well as male dominated warehouse roles paid at a higher rate of pay than female dominated office-based or store-based roles.”

Discussing legitimate reasons behind pay differences, Bryony comments: “Employers should also have a clear rationale for any pay discrepancies between male and female employees, both for new recruits and when giving pay rises. It is vital to ensure these are well documented.

“Discrepancies may be due to differing experience, skills, location, market forces, performance or difficulty recruiting for certain roles. These can be a defence to equal pay claims.

“Often employers struggle in defending claims where the rationale for historic differences in pay is not known or documented.”

You can read the full article and Bryony’s comments in HR Magazine here.

Our employment lawyers work closely in partnership with businesses and individuals needing fast, straightforward, effective legal advice. Learn more about our employment and HR team here.