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Dare to Compare

Employment lawyer Paula Lee explains what equal pay actually means.

employment blog - commuters and equal pay
Paula is an experienced employment lawyer, who puts her clients at the centre of everything she does. Paula has a reputation for defending her client’s rights fiercely and is an unrelenting opponent.
‘Equal pay for equal work’ – it’s a slogan we’ve all heard since childhood. Since the ‘70s it’s been the mantra adopted by women to drive the truism it represents into society’s conscience. Saying it is the easy bit though and as far as slogans go, this one has the ultimate benefit of being unassailable. The harder bit is daring to ask what someone else is paid. The bit which is even harder is believing that the range of men available – those to whom you should be comparing yourself - is probably much wider than you ever dared to believe.

Once you’ve made the decision to get over any natural shyness about actually starting the pay conversation, it is surprisingly easy. The law is there, ready to help and protect – you just have to ask. Even the ‘pay secrecy’ clause tucked away in your contract will not apply to relevant pay disclosures. Parliament neutralized that powerful deterrent for you years ago.

So now that the conversation has started …

What is not fully appreciated within our slogan is that the law provides three categories of equal work – and you are perfectly entitled to consider all three. Again the law on equal pay is here to help cast your net wide.
  1. Like Work: this is the obvious category and to some extent the rarest to find examples of nowadays. Most employers know that they cannot pay Oliver more for doing the job that Meera is also doing. But the like work category is also what has held women back in this area because all too commonly Meera, on discovering she is paid the same as Oliver, thinks that is the end of the matter. But it is just the start…
  2. Work Rated As Equivalent: If Meera works in the public sector (including the NHS) then it is highly likely that she already benefits from a job evaluation study, in which her role was objectively analysed and given a grade or some other form of ranking. The rating Meera’s role has been given will be grouped with other, different roles which enjoy the same rating. If Meera does work in a role which has been formally rated, she would still be advised to look at the other roles which enjoy a similar rating (and indeed those which enjoy a higher rating). In doing so she will educate herself as to the deeper, legal definition of equal work. It will challenge any belief she may have that equal work means only ‘like work’. And if Meera works in private sector and her role is not rated (and the vast majority of private sector roles are not) she will want to consider…
  3. Work of Equal Value: this is where it pays Meera to be brave and to dare to compare her role with those different roles undertaken by men which are similar in terms of the demands made. Meera needs to think about the effort required, the physical and mental skills needed and the decision-making faculties the different roles require. Fortune favours the brave here. Meera must not devalue her skills and she must own her achievements. A female Head of HR and the male Head of IT is an obvious example, as both roles are likely to require a degree, the leading of a team and the control of a budget. There is no reason why a woman working in the back office cannot be as valuable as the man working on the forecourt.

Work of equal value is far reaching; it permits you to cast a very wide net to find the right man to start your pursuit of equal pay. But first you must dare to compare… And, like Dorothy, my hunch is that when you do, you will discover that you had the power all along, you just didn’t know it.

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