There has been a rapid growth of equal pay litigation, which has seen claims against all the UK’s major supermarkets.

Equal pay claims are procedurally and legally complex, making them time consuming and expensive for employers to defend. The consequences of losing are also significant: an employer can be ordered to pay the differential in pay for up to six years, plus interest and/or damages. With the number of claimants in recent equal pay claims totalling up to 30,000, this is no small figure.

But why are there so many cases? The difficulty comes when considering what counts as ‘equal work’ for which men and women should be paid equally. 

Taking the recent Asda Court of Appeal case as an example, the question for the court was whether employees working in retail stores (who were mainly women) were entitled to compare themselves to employees working in distribution centres (who were mainly men), so they could bring equal pay claims. 

On the face of it, the roles of retail and distribution are different, have different skills and working environments and there are a number of obvious differences between them. However, that is no barrier to the court finding they are comparable.

So how does an employer know if two roles might be capable of comparison?  There are actions employers can take.

Undertake an equal pay audit and assess your organisation for trouble spots and recommend remedial action. Reviewing the workforce as a whole and consider where the charge of unequal pay for equal work might be a risk.

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