Equal work

Advice and Guidance

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  • Employers

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      Great Britain

There are three types of equal work:

Like work

’Like work’ is work that is the same or broadly similar. It involves similar tasks requiring similar knowledge and skills, where any differences are not of practical importance. To determine ‘like work’, assess:

  • tasks involved and any differences between the two roles
  • the frequency, nature and extent of any differences (for example in the level of responsibility, the skills, qualifications or training required or the physical effort involved) to see if they are of practical importance

A difference in workload doesn’t itself prevent a ‘like work’ comparison, unless the increased workload represents a difference in responsibility or other difference of practical importance.

‘Like work’ examples:

These examples have been judged to be ‘like work’ by the courts:

  • a woman preparing lunches for directors and a man preparing breakfast, lunch and tea for employees
  • male and female supermarket employees who perform similar tasks requiring similar skill levels, although the men may lift heavier objects from time to time

Work rated as equivalent

‘Work rated as equivalent’ has been rated under a valid job evaluation scheme as being of equal value in terms of how demanding it is, including effort, skill and decision making. Jobs involving dissimilar tasks may be rated as equivalent.

 ‘Work rated as equivalent’ example:

  • 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.

Work of equal value

‘Work of equal value’ is not like work and has not been rated as equivalent, but is of equal value in terms of demands such as:

  • effort involved
  • skills necessary to do the job
  • decision-making that is part of the role

In some cases, the two jobs may appear broadly comparable, such as a female head of personnel and a male head of finance. More commonly, entirely different types of jobs, such as manual and administrative, can turn out to be of equal value when analysed.

‘Work of equal value’ examples

Examples of different jobs which have been ruled to be of equal value by the courts include:

  • clerical assistant equal to warehouse operative
  • canteen workers and cleaners equal to surface mineworkers and clerical workers
  • school nursery nurse equal to local government architectural technician
  • head of speech and language therapy service equal to head of hospital pharmacy service

This does not necessarily mean that jobs with these job titles or similar will always be of equal value to each other in every organisation that uses the same titles.

Material factors

If an employer relies on a material factor to explain a difference in pay, this must not involve treating the woman less favourably than the man because of their sex. This would be unlawful direct sex discrimination. For example, in one case, a council could not use ‘market rates’ to justify the difference in pay between female catering assistants and male road sweepers, refuse collectors and gardeners. The market itself was tainted by sex discrimination which saw the claimants’ work as ‘women’s work’.

The material factor must not put women as a group at a particular disadvantage compared to men, unless:

  • the employer has a legitimate aim in applying the material factor i.e. a real need that is not discriminatory
  • applying the material factor is a proportionate (appropriate and reasonably necessary) way to achieve that aim

For example, in one case, a police force wanted to reward night working by using ‘special priority payments’. This put women at a particular disadvantage compared to men because they were less likely to be able to work at night due to caring responsibilities.

However, the police force had a real need for people to work night shifts and acted proportionately, as there was no other way to encourage night working without offering higher pay. Therefore, the police force had acted lawfully.

Last updated: 26 Aug 2020

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.