Equal pay explained

Advice and Guidance

Which countries is it relevant to?

    • Great Britain

What the law says

The Equality Act 2010 (the Act) legally protects people from being discriminated against because of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

Part of the protection against sex discrimination the Act provides is a contractual right for women and men to have equal pay for equal work.

The Act entitles employees to equality in their pay and other terms of employment with employees of the opposite sex doing equal work for the same employer (this is known as ‘equality of terms’).

It does so by providing that a sex equality clause is read into contracts of employment, ensuring that women’s contractual terms are no less favourable than men’s, and vice versa.

This applies not only to pay, but to all contractual terms of employment, such as bonuses, holiday entitlement, pay and reward schemes, company cars, pensions contributions and any other benefits.

Equal pay applies to both women and men

The equal pay provisions in the Act apply to both men and women, but to avoid repetition and for clarity, this guidance is written as though the claimant is a woman (because it is more common that women are paid less than men). This does not mean that men can’t claim equal pay. The legislation protects men and women equally – so it applies just the same if a man is being paid less than a woman for equal work.

What is equal work?

There are three kinds of equal work:

  • like work - this is where the works involves similar tasks which require similar skills, and any differences in the work are not of practical importance. eg male and female drivers, where the men were more likely to work at weekends
  • work rated as equivalent - this is where the work has been rated under a fair job evaluation scheme as being of equal value in terms of how demanding it is. eg the work of an occupational health nurse might be rated as equivalent to that of a production supervisor when components of the job such as skill, responsibility and effort are assessed by a fair job evaluation scheme, and
  • work of equal value - this is work which is not similar and has not been rated as equivalent, but is of equal value in terms of demands such as effort, skill and decision-making. An examples of a different job ruled to be of equal value by the courts is: clerical assistant = warehouse operative.

Read more about equal work.

Your responsibility as an employer

If you are an employer and are making decisions about your employees’ level of pay, or deciding what contractual benefits to give them, you are under a legal obligation to provide Equal Pay:

  • whatever the size of your organisation, and
  • whether you work in the public or private sector

Who does the Act apply to?

Employers - You are considered to be an ‘employer if you are the person making decisions about what happens in a work situation.

An employer:

  • controls the work to be done and provides the work
  • pays a regular amount of pay at regular intervals
  • provides tools and materials to do the work, and
  • finds someone else to do the work if, for example, an employee is off sick.

Employees - most workers are covered by the equal pay provisions, even if they don’t have a written contract of employment and regardless of length of service. Casual or temporary contract workers (including zero hours and fixed term contracts) and apprentices are all covered.

In this guide all of these workers are referred to as ‘employees’ for convenience. For further clarity see the Code of Practice on Equal Pay. Similarly, people who recruit or ‘employ’ these people are referred to as ‘employers’.

Avoid discrimination, avoid risks

At the Equality and Human Rights Commission, we are committed to working with employers to help them pay their employees fairly, in line with equal pay legislation.

These pages will help you avoid unlawful discrimination that could result in the risk of an equal pay claim being brought against you or your organisation. It will also help you ensure you are a fair employer and enhancing your reputation, ability to attract and retain high quality staff.

Different sizes of organisation may operate with different levels of formality and very different pay systems, but all employers are responsible for ensuring that their pay systems are free from sex discrimination.

As with any legislation, you need to know how it affects you in particular. We will help you find the answers you need, and suggest other useful sources of information to help you implement and maintain equal pay.

Last updated: 19 Feb 2019

Contact Acas for further information

If you are involved in an employment dispute or are seeking information on employment rights and rules, you can contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas):

Visit the Acas website

Freephone: 0300 123 1100 (8am to 8pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 1pm Saturday)

Text Relay service: 18001 0300 123 1100.