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Lichfield lawyers warn of Equality Act ‘minefield’

Employers in Lichfield are being warned that the new Equality Act is a potential minefield – and that they should look at their pay structures now or face potential claims in the future.

The new law consolidates existing rules on disability, sex, race and other grounds of discrimination, and introduces a new legislative framework to protect individuals’ rights and promote equal opportunities, including equal pay.

Lita Kirwan

Lita Kirwan

Lita Kirwan, an employment law specialist at Bradin Trubshaw & Kirwan in Lichfield, said private sector firms now need to prepare for the implications of the new Equality Act if they are to avoid the pay scandals that have hit the public sector.

Ms Kirwan said:

“Here in the Midlands, there have been a number of high-profile public sector pay disputes on the issue of equal pay, notably the controversial Single Status process by Birmingham City Council which resulted in over 4,000 cases being taken to Employment Tribunal. However private sector employees have typically been more wary of taking cases to tribunal, fearing it will make them unpopular with bosses.

“Private sector employment contracts can be quite secretive and restrictive, with confidentiality clauses to prevent employees discussing their individual remuneration package. This previously made it difficult to prove a case, but the new Act makes these clauses unenforceable and means that workers cannot now be disciplined for discussing pay rates with colleagues.”

She added that the public sector has already embraced job evaluation to rate different jobs as equivalent, whereas the private sector is still largely governed by “market forces” when it comes to salaries. If firms have reasons for paying colleagues performing similar roles different amounts, such as length of service, these should be documented now she advised.

Ms Kirwan said companies considering carrying out pay investigations should do it though their lawyers, as the resulting document would then be protected by legal privilege.

She added:

“The new Act should be a wake-up call for firms who know deep down that haven’t been as proactive on this issue as they probably should have been. It’s essential that they undertake a pay audit now, but do it with legal advice.”

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