What does equal pay mean for employees?

Advice and Guidance

Who is this page for?

  • Employees

Which countries is it relevant to?

    • Great Britain

What is equal pay?

Equal pay means that men and women in the same employment performing equal work must receive equal pay, as set out in the Equality Act 2010. It’s the law, and your employer must observe it. This applies not only to salary, but to all contractual terms and conditions of employment, such as holiday entitlement, bonuses, pay and reward schemes, pension payments and other benefits.

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 page provides a general outline of the law. More detailed information is available in the Equality and Human Rights Commission publication, Your Rights to Equality at Work: Pay and Benefits.

Equal pay explained

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.

What the law states

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 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 most equal pay claims are made by women). This does not mean that men can’t claim equal pay. The law 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. All of these require a woman to compare herself to a man in the same employment. He is called a ‘comparator’.

  • 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 a woman cook preparing lunches for directors and a male chef cooking breakfast, lunch and tea for employees.
  • 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.
  • 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. eg a clerical assistant and a warehouse operative.

If are concerned that you may be paid less than a person of the opposite sex for equal work, you should get other help and advice, for example, from:

Last updated: 27 Nov 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.