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Myths of the workplace: Everyone should get equal pay for doing the same work

The principle of equal pay, that men and women doing similar work should get paid the same amount, has been part of UK law for the best part of four decades. Even so, there's still confusion about the circumstances in which people can be paid more for doing the same work.

Employers must pay men and women equally if they are doing 'like work', which is work that's the same or broadly similar; or work that's of equal value (for example, in terms of effort, skill or other demands); or work that's rated as equivalent under a job evaluation study.

But that's not the end of the matter. If an employer can show that there's a genuine reason for any difference in pay that's not based on the sex of the individual, then the equal pay legislation may not apply.

A common reason that someone may be paid more for like work is because of his or her experience or 'length of service'. It's generally taken that the longer the service, the greater the experience, the more likely it is that an employee is better at the job. In such a way, having more experience can be a permitted justification for an employee to take home more pay than a less experienced person doing like work.

As ever with the law, there are exceptions. Experience can't be put forward as an excuse for pay inequality in every situation. If there's 'serious doubt' that it's appropriate to justify a pay gap on length of service, then an employer has to show that it goes 'hand in hand' with experience and that experience enables the worker to perform duties better. It's particularly difficult for employers to justify a pay gap if the difference in experience or service between parties is based on a period spanning more than five years, and there could be an increased risk of indirect age discrimination against younger claimants as well.

Acas can help your organisation undertake an equal pay audit and avoid operating a discriminatory pay system. Acas also provides training in issues surrounding Equal pay, including how to approach job evaluations. Visit Pay and reward: how Acas can help in the Acas Training and Business Solutions area for more information.

Visit the Acas Training and Business Solutions area for more information.

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