Dónall Breen: What can employers learn from the Tesco and Morrisons equal pay cases? 

As the saying goes, learn from the mistakes of others because you cannot afford to make them all yourself. Especially not ones as big as a mass equal pay claim. That is why so many private sector employers, lawyers and campaigners are closely following the Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys and, most recently, Morrisons equal pay claims. Even at this early stage, with no case yet coming to judgment, there are some crucial learning points for us all. 

Beware of the simple answer 

It is not just equal pay for equal work. The requirement of equal pay for work of equal value is surprisingly difficult to implement. Take the cases of Cooks v Caretakers and IT Geeks v HR professionals, for example. Years of litigation have still not answered if floor workers in a store and warehouse workers perform equal value work in a supermarket. If employers really want to get to bottom of their legal compliance, a systemic review of their business will be required. This will not be quick or cheap, and the risk of opening a can of worms is ever present. 

No unions? Not necessarily no problem 

Law firms operating on a no-win no-fee basis, organising workers through grassroot platforms like Facebook, are pushing traditional unions to one side. Employers should be keeping their ear close to the ground. With no shop steward to pass on the message it is increasingly important to listen closely to what a workforce is saying. The first public sign of trouble may be a law firm’s PR announcement. 

Gender pay gap equals equal pay 

Paying men more is not the same as paying women unequally. If employers are publishing their gender pay gap data, they should make sure they are confident in how they will answer questions from the workforce who may see a pay gap as prima facie evidence of unequal pay.  

The floodgates have not yet opened  

It remains to be seen if this is a supermarket sweep or if the wind sock of equal pay claims is now firmly pointing to the private sector. While employers should be wary, perhaps right now the best course is to keep watching and keep learning.  

Dónall Breen is associate at CQ Employment Law