BBC #equalpay row could inspire avalanche of tribunal claims in the UK

ARAGThe campaign for equal pay among BBC presenters could help trigger an avalanche of similar claims, according to leading provider of legal services and advice to businesses, ARAG, following this summer’s Supreme Court ruling on employment tribunal fees.

The gender pay gap has been highlighted by numerous high profile BBC presenters today, including Mishal Husain and Jo Whiley, who have been photographed wearing t-shirts and holding signs featuring the equals symbol.

The Supreme Court’s recent removal of the fees that had to be paid to take such claims to tribunal, coupled with the publicity surrounding a possible case against the BBC and other claims such as those involving major British supermarkets, could create a perfect storm for UK employers.

The number of equal pay claims received by the tribunal service dropped by 85% immediately after the introduction of tribunal fees in July 2013 and the annual number of claims is roughly a third of what it was five years ago.

Until the Supreme Court ruled that employment tribunal fees were indirectly discriminatory  and thus unlawful in July this year, it cost up to £1,200 to take an Equal Pay claim to a tribunal hearing, which was clearly enough to discourage many from pursuing a claim.

“We’re not expecting all types of employment tribunal claims to shoot back up to pre-2013 levels immediately, following the Supreme Court decision,” comments Head of Underwriting & Marketing, David Haynes “But the publicity that these claims are getting at the moment is going to raise the question of equal pay in a lot of people’s minds.”

The BBC recently commissioned a report into pay differences throughout the Corporation which revealed a gender pay gap of 9.3%, roughly half the national average, caused by underrepresentation of women in senior positions rather than a widespread failure to pay people equally for doing the same or equivalent work.

“The gender pay issue at the BBC appears to be focussed on a relatively small number of staff in particular roles, ” continues Haynes, “but these statistics suggest that many other organisations have a much wider pay gap.”

“The media understandably focus on the very large cases involving multiple employees at high-profile organisations, but these cases are less likely to have been put off by the tribunal fee regime, because the fee burden could be shared. However, there are always many more smaller or individual claims that employers may now have to face once again.

ARAG’s checklist for employers to minimise the risk of gender pay issues:

  • Evaluate – Organisations with more than 250 employees have legal reporting requirements, but any business with more than a handful of staff should evaluate whether any jobs involve ‘equal work’.
  • Report – If any roles are found to entail equal work, then at least annual reporting should be set up to compare the average salaries of men and of women in equal roles.
  • Investigate – Sometimes differences in pay can be justified objectively but any such reasons should be recorded for future reference.
  • Correct – If there are pay discrepancies that cannot be objectively justified, then they must be corrected and the causes addressed to avoid a gap reopening.

“Monitoring your gender pay gap may seem like another piece of difficult or even unnecessary bureaucracy,” sums up Haynes, “but it shouldn’t be too difficult an exercise to carry out. Besides, the cost of making sure that you are paying men and women equally is nothing compared to the risk and costs of getting it wrong.”

“Both ACAS and the Equality and Human Rights Commission publish good advice for businesses to help them ensure they are rewarding all of their staff fairly and equally.”

Associate News is provided by Legal Futures Associates.
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