Decisions about pay and benefits for women and men (equal pay)

The term ‘equal pay’ is used specifically to mean making sure that women and men who are doing equal work receive the same rewards under their contracts of employment.

Equal pay applies to everything the employee receives, not just money paid to them, such as holiday entitlement. 

Equal pay applies to workers, office-holders, police officers and people serving in the armed forces. This guide refers to all these people as ‘employees’ for convenience. Similarly, people who recruit or ‘employ’ these people are referred to as ‘employers’.


  • you are not in one of these relationships with the person or organisation that is paying you but you are in another work situation, or
  • the unlawful discrimination is because of a protected characteristic other than sex, or
  • the pay or benefits are not part of your contract

then your employer must still not discriminate unlawfully against you, but the special equal pay laws and procedures do not apply, and the first half of this guide applies to your situation instead.

Note: Because it is much more often the case that women are paid less than men, this guide generally refers to the person claiming equal pay as being a woman. But equal pay law protects men and women equally, so if a man is being paid less than a woman doing equal work, the following applies to him too.

This section of the guide looks at some of the rules in more detail, including:

  • Sex equality clause
  • Equal work
  • Like work
  • Work that is rated as equivalent
  • Work that is of equal value
  • The employer’s defence of ‘material factor’
  • Pay protection schemes
  • Pay, benefits and bonuses during maternity leave.

However, although the reason the law exists is simple – to make sure women and men receive the same rewards for equal work – the law itself can be complicated. This guide tells you the general outline of the law, but if you are concerned about equal pay, you should get other help and advice, for example, from:

  • the Equality and Human Rights Commission,
  • Acas,
  • your trade union if you have one

Contact details for a range of organisations who may be able to help you are found within Further sources of information. 

More information

Last Updated: 12 Jan 2015