Perhaps you stumbled across his open payslip, or maybe overheard him talking about how much he earns to someone else in the office. However you found out, discovering your male colleague earns more than you for precisely the same job, can be crushing. As we learnt from the gender pay gap data earlier this year, the disparity between men and women in the workplace is already a problem. But while the gender pay gap isn’t illegal, unequal pay is. The Equal Pay Act was first passed in 1970, and states if your employer pays you less than someone of the opposite sex for doing the exact same job, they are breaking the law.
So what should you do if you become aware this is happening in your workplace? We asked Marian Derham, partner at law firm Harbottle & Lewis, who advises clients on a full range of contentious and non-contentious employment law issues, whether you have grounds to raise this with your employer. “Men and women are entitled to equal pay for equal work, so if you find out that a male co-worker is being paid more than you for equal work, then you should absolutely raise this issue.”
Firstly, Marian advises, if you have a good relationship with your line manager you need to arrange a meeting to speak about the issue informally with them. If not, take it straight to HR. Then, there are a number of further steps you can take if you feel this isn’t adequately dealt with. “If this is not resolved informally, the next step would be to raise a grievance, following your employer’s grievance procedure,” says Marian. “If you are not satisfied with the outcome of the grievance procedure, then you could try and resolve the matter with your employer through the free conciliation service offered by ACAS. If the matter is still not resolved, you can bring a claim for equal pay in the Employment Tribunal.”
So, how to raise such an issue in the first place? It can be scary to raise this subject with your boss, particularly if it involves sensitive information. However, Marian believes if you provide them with a factual comparison of your pay and benefits, compared to your male co-worker, you’ll have a strong case. In order to make this conversation happen, go into that meeting as prepared as possible to have the right impact: “Remember pay is more than just your basic salary and includes the complete pay and benefits package, such as non-discretionary bonuses, pension benefits, overtime rates and allowances, hours of work, sick pay and benefits-in-kind,” she says. “You will need to make it clear the male co-worker is carrying out equal work to you and this can be done by demonstrating your male co-worker carries out similar tasks, requiring similar skills, or work of equal value in terms of demands such as effort, skills and decision-making.”
When it comes to your expectations of the outcome of your grievance, Marian is very clear on the level of professionalism to expect. “Your boss [should] take this seriously and carefully consider your concerns, as you are alleging a breach of the Equality Act 2010. You should also expect not to be subjected to any unfavourable treatment for raising these issues, as this would be unlawful.”
Furthermore, she says you can’t be discriminated against for finding out how much others earn: “Secrecy clauses in employment contracts are unenforceable in relation to equal pay and an employee is protected from victimisation if they seek to find out information about what other employees earn, for equal pay purposes.” So what have you got to lose?