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I think I am not getting equal pay for equal work – how do I challenge this?

It is disconcerting and very upsetting to find out or to suspect that someone you work with, who does the same job as you, is getting paid more than you.  Most of us, when faced with that situation, will feel very aggrieved and want to do something about it.  However, there may be a whole host of reasons for the difference in pay and for that reason, it’s sensible to try and find out some more information before burning bridges.


This is a complex area of law but essentially, an employee is entitled to contractual terms (which actually goes further than just pay, though that is what most complaints focus on) which are as favourable as those of a comparator of the other gender who is doing equal work or work of equal value.  However, a difference in terms between genders is permitted if the reason for that difference is not directly or indirectly discriminatory (known as a ‘genuine material factor’).


In the first instance, you should approach whoever within the business has responsibility for pay and HR matters.  You should express to them your concerns that there is a disparity in pay which you are not sure can be explained or justified.  At this stage, you should probably avoid making any allegations of unequal pay or discrimination as this is likely to be inflammatory and it may be that the difference in pay has nothing to do with gender.  It is likely that they might ask you to put your concerns in writing and to confirm whether or not you want to bring a formal grievance.  Ultimately, it might be necessary to go down this route but if possible, it would be good to have as much information as you can get so that you, and whoever advises you, can assess the strength of the argument.  At this stage, you should focus on:


  • whom you say the colleagues are who have more favourable terms than you;
  • why you say their work is equal to yours; and
  • how pay is determined within the business and what factors are taking into account when setting pay.


Ideally, you want to know how much your comparable colleagues are paid.  However, the pay of an identifiable individual is personal data so your employer will be cautious of its data protection obligations in responding to any request for this information.


The increased obligations which businesses are coming under to report on their gender pay gap are likely to lead to much greater awareness of where there may be pay disparities.  Our specialist Employment team have considerable experience of advising employees in this area and because of the complexities of it, we would strongly recommend that you take advice from us at an early stage so that you can understand fully what your rights and options might be and know how to deal with problems that might arise, particularly around the disclosure of information.

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