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Is it illegal to pay somebody less for doing the same job?

Reasons to choose Wilson Browne

The Equal Pay Act in the UK is now 50 years old, and it was largely replaced by the Equality Act 2010, but equal pay is still a major issue, especially the gender pay gap.

Is it illegal to pay someone less for doing the same job, or are there circumstances where differences in pay will not be breaking the law?

What is the Equal Pay Issue?

The Equal Pay Issue relates to less favourable treatment between men and women over pay and conditions.

The right to equal pay applies to:

  • Employees
  • Apprentices
  • Agency workers
  • People on full-time, part-time, or temporary contracts
  • Self-employed people hired on a personal basis to carry out work.

What is Equal Work?

Equal work is, by law:

  • Work where jobs and skills are the same or similar – known as like work
  • Work rated as equivalent through an analytical job evaluation study or job evaluation scheme
  • Work of equal value, where the work isn’t similar or rated as equivalent, but the level of skills, training, responsibility, or demands are of equal value with reference to a comparator.

Under the law, men and women should receive equal pay for equal work.

When Can an Employee Make a Claim?

Under the Equality Act 2010, an employee can make a claim against an employer if their terms and conditions of employment are less favourable than a comparator. The employee making the claim and the comparator must be of different sex and doing like work, equivalent work, or work of equal value as above.

For the purposes of an equal pay claim, terms and conditions of employment include:

  • Basic salary and wages
  • Pensions
  • Working hours
  • Annual leave allowance and holiday pay
  • Sick pay
  • Overtime pay
  • Redundancy pay
  • Performance-related pay
  • Employee benefits, such as company cars.

When is it Not Illegal to Pay Less for the Same Job?

In certain circumstances there can be differences in pay and conditions which might be lawful:

  • Differences in pay can apply where individual employees have different levels of skill and experience.
  • They can apply where location is a factor. For example, the cost of living is higher in London, so a company may pay someone more for doing the same job there, than if the work was based elsewhere in the country.
  • In some shift work, employers may pay more for night shift work, if they can prove they need to do this to get employees to cover them.

The employer will be required to prove these factors, which serve as a defence to an equal pay claim. Every defence will depend on the facts of the case, and some factors which succeed in one claim might fail in another. Therefore, it is always important to seek specialist advice.

When Should You Involve Equal Pay Solicitors?

If you think you’re being paid less than you should because of your gender, or some other unlawful factor, you should talk to a specialist in employment law and equal pay claims.

For more information, please contact us.

Joe Weston


Joe Weston


Joe is a Solicitor in the Employment team based in Northampton who advises clients on all areas of employment law, both contentious and non-contentious.