It's the law: Equal pay claims, part one

Knowing which jobs are rated as equivalent can help employers avoid equal pay claims

The Equal Pay Act of 1970 enshrined the principle that men and women should receive the same pay for the same job. More than 35 years later, however, the statistics show there is still a 17 per cent gender pay gap for full-time employees. Between 1 April 2005 and 31 March 2006, a total of 12,393 equal pay claims were lodged with employment tribunals, accounting for 13 per cent of the total claims lodged during that year, and almost double the number of claims made the previous year.

Claims for equal pay can be made by both men and women, although the employee they are comparing themselves with must be of the opposite sex.

The claimant's contractual terms must be less favourable, and the reason for this difference must be shown to be gender.

Only 'employees' can bring claims. However, there is a wide interpretation of 'employee', so agency workers and certain self-employed people will also be protected.

A claim can be brought at any time while the employee remains employed, or within six months of the termination of the contract if there is a dismissal. The employee must first have lodged a grievance with the employer.

Claimants can serve an Equal Pay Questionnaire to request information from their employer, who must provide the information. The tribunal is entitled to draw inferences from any evasive or late replies.

The Equal Pay Act means that an 'equality clause' relating to all contractual pay and benefits will be implied in the claimant's contract. This means that a woman's benefits will be deemed to be no less favourable than those of a man in the same employment who does 'like work' to that of the woman, or whose work is of 'equal value' or has been rated as equivalent under a job evaluation scheme. Jobs that are entirely dissimilar, such as a canteen assistant and a painter, may in fact be of equal value if they are comparable in terms of the demands made on the employee.

As with other contractual terms, if the employer does not honour the equality clause, an employee can make a claim to a tribunal.

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