A query about equal pay

A female member of staff has complained to me that she believes she is earning less than her male colleagues for doing the same job. She wants me to give her details of their salary and move her pay to the same rate. What should I do?”

Firstly, you should be careful about disclosing personal information about one employee to another, without consent.   You may wish to speak to the male staff generally regarding pay structures and see if they will agree to the release of some information regarding salary arrangements. Assuming that the male staff do not agree, you should not at this stage disclose any details from which the female employee could identify the individual male employees.

Also, there is currently no statutory obligation on employers in Northern Ireland to publish information on any gender pay gap. Whilst regulations will be introduced in April 2017 in England and Wales affecting employers of at least 250 employees, such a requirement may only be introduced in Northern Ireland after the Employment Act is implemented here.

As you may know, under the Equal Pay Act men and women should receive equal pay for equal work. Not only do the provisions of the equal pay legislation require that the female employee receives equal pay for work she carries out which is equal to that of her male colleagues, to treat her less favourably regarding pay could also amount to sex discrimination under the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976. I suggest that you do not adhere to the recent comments from the Polish MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke who was of the opinion that women deserved to earn less as they are “weaker, smaller and less intelligent” when investigating this matter.

It may be that the jobs carried out by the female employee and her male colleagues are not the same or at different levels with varying responsibilities and duties and possibly, that equal pay for the roles is not required. You should however examine the roles closely.

The female colleague might allege that she does like work to her male colleagues; that her work should be rated as equivalent to that carried out by them or her work is of equal value to the work undertaken by the male employees. It is not essential that the jobs are exactly the same to trigger the female worker’s right to pay equal to her male colleagues.

It could be that even if the job she undertakes is similar to those of her male colleagues, that the Company has a historical reason which could justify any difference in pay; you may have a genuine reason, untainted by gender, for any pay disparity which might exist.

This is a complicated area and I recommend you arrange to meet with the female employee to obtain further information from her, asking her to identify the male colleague with whom she compares herself for her claim for equal pay. There may be a valid reason why that male employee earns more than she does.

Once the meeting has taken place, you would then be better placed to investigate the matter further and assess whether there are any differences in the job roles which could explain the different rates of pay. To assist, you might wish to consider having the jobs independently evaluated in order to assess whether the jobs are of equal value, or rated as equivalent. If the female employee’s complaint is well founded, she has the right to equal pay going forward, plus also arrears of salary.

I suggest you seriously consider the female employee’s complaint. The female employee could lodge a formal grievance about the matter and/or lodge proceedings at the Employment Tribunal claiming equal pay, and arrears, also alleging discrimination on the grounds of gender.

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While great care has been taken in the preparation of the content of this article, it does not purport to be a comprehensive statement of the relevant law and full professional advice should be taken before any action is taken in reliance on any item covered.