The BBC falls foul of the equal pay provisions of the Equality Act 2010. What lessons can be learned?

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22nd January 2020

 
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The Geldards employment team would like to wish you a very Happy New Year!

Equal pay is the topic for our first update of 2020 as we take a look at the case of Ahmed v BBC in which TV presenter Samira Ahmed succeeded in demonstrating that her role was of equal value to her male colleague Jeremy Vine. The case has been widely reported illustrating, as we know, that equal pay is never far from the headlines and should be on all employers’ agendas.

The facts

Ms Ahmed was at the time of her claim, and continues to be, the presenter of Newswatch, a fifteen-minute segment broadcast on Saturday mornings during the Breakfast program on BBC One. Newswatch considers critiques of BBC News broadcasts made by members of their audience. Ms Ahmed was appointed as presenter of the program in 2004, she was paid £440 per broadcast. Her comparator was Jeremy Vine. During the relevant comparison period, he presented Points of View, a fifteen-minute program which considers the views of all BBC output from its audience. Jeremy Vine was paid £3,000 per broadcast. Ms Ahmed claimed that these roles were either ‘like work’ or ‘work of equal value’ and should attract the same level of pay.

The BBC sought to argue that the profile of the programmes and the presenters meant that the roles were not comparable. The BBC claimed that Jeremy Vine was an entertainer and had the necessary “glint in his eye” required to present Points of View. The BBC reasoned that because he was an ‘entertainer’ and Ms Ahmed was not, that he performed a different role. This held no sway with the Employment Tribunal who maintained that the two presenters essentially did the same job.

The BBC also sought to defend the pay differentials on the basis of market forces i.e. that Jeremy Vine attracted a higher rate of pay because that was required to retain him as the programme’s presenter. The employment tribunal was quite scathing in its assessment of the BBC’s evidence in relation to this argument and found that in fact those market forces did not apply during the relevant period of comparison because Jeremy Vine had signed a deal to work exclusively for the BBC and did not have the option to work elsewhere.

What lessons can be learned?

Issues in relation to equal pay are never far from the headlines. The requirements in relation to gender pay gap reporting for certain organisations may also highlight potential issues in the workforce. Equal pay claims are costly for employers to defend and if employers are ultimately unsuccessful in that defence, face a six year back pay liability.

Employers must ensure therefore that:

  • They understand if there are any potential areas of equal pay vulnerability within their organisation;
  • If there are any differentials in pay between individuals or groups of individuals of different sexes doing similar roles, that there is a valid legal basis supported by evidence for those differentials;
  • If possible, resolve any valid equal pay issues before they get to the employment tribunal stage. The process for an equal pay claim is lengthy and costly, and if the claimant is ultimately successful the organisation will be ordered by the employment tribunal to undertake an equal pay audit, which could flag further issues.

If you want better understand the implications of equal pay vulnerabilities and the potential risk for your organisation please contact the Geldards Employment team. We have unparalleled experience of investigating managing and defending equal pays claims, having handled the mass equal litigation against Local Authorities, and the implementation of equality proof pay structures across a variety of sectors.

RELATED:   EMPLOYMENT LAW - EXPERTISE  


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