Equal pay - the law and best practice

What is equal work?


Under the Equal Pay Act (NI) 1970 an employee has a right to equal pay with any employee of the opposite sex, known as 'comparator', who is doing work that is either:

  • the same or broadly similar, provided that where there are any differences in the work these are not of practical importance, known as 'like work'
  • different, but is rated under a job evaluation scheme as being work of equal value, known as 'work rated as equivalent'
  • different, but of equal value in terms of factors such as effort, skill and decision-making, known as 'work of equal value'

The comparator must be in the 'same employment' as the claimant. This means they are employed by the same or an associated employer at the same workplace, or by the same or an associated employer at a different workplace as long as common terms and conditions apply.

The law thus provides for three types of equal pay claim.

1. Like work

There are two questions to ask when determining 'like work':

  • whether the woman and her male comparator are employed on work that is the same or broadly similar
  • whether any differences between her work and that done by her comparator are 'of practical importance', taking into consideration the frequency with which any differences occur in practice, and the nature and extent of those differences

It is for the employer to show that there are differences of practical importance in the work actually performed. Differences such as additional duties, level of responsibility, skills, the time at which work is done, qualifications, training and physical effort could all be valid.

2. Work rated as equivalent

A woman will be entitled to equal pay with a man where her work is rated as at least equivalent to the work that he does under an employer's job evaluation study in terms of the demands made on the workers, by reference to factors such as effort, skill and decision-making.

A job evaluation study will rate the demands made by jobs under headings such as skill, effort and decision-making. Studies must be non-discriminatory and not influenced by gender stereotyping or assumptions about women's and men's work.

3. Work of equal value

A woman can claim equal pay with a man if she can show that her work is of equal value with his in terms of the demands made on her. This means that the jobs done by a woman and her comparator are different but can be regarded as being of equal worth, taking into account the nature of the work, the training or skills necessary to do the job, the conditions of work and the decision-making that is part of the role.

Equal value claims thus raise the possibility of making comparisons across traditional job boundaries.

Definition of pay

For the purposes of equal pay claims, pay has been widely defined to include:

  • basic pay and salary
  • performance related pay
  • contractual bonuses
  • contractual benefits including holiday pay, sick pay, occupational pensions and concessionary travel for family members
  • premiums paid for shift working