Female BBC journalist wins equal pay tribunal

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The case may encourage other women to raise issues, as there are around 20 similar cases in the tribunal system

BBC presenter Samira Ahmed recently won an equal pay tribunal against the British public service broadcaster, in which she claimed to have been underpaid by £700,000.

Ahmed’s case began in 2018 and grabbed both the public’s and HR’s attention. At the tribunal she claimed the BBC underpaid her for hosting audience feedback show Newswatch.

The presenter said that Jeremy Vine was being paid £3,000 per episode for hosting a similar programme, Points of View, while she was paid £440 per episode.

She told the tribunal: “I could not understand how pay for me, a woman, could be so much lower than Jeremy Vine, a man, for presenting very similar programmes and doing very similar work.”

Ahmed won her case as the tribunal’s judge ruled that the BBC had failed to prove the pay gap between her and Vine wasn’t due to sex discrimination.

The broadcaster has additional obligations than those of a regular employer or organisation. Being a public sector company funded by licence fees, the BBC’s equality duty will have to go through extensive audits to look at its pay schemes.

Danielle Crawford, senior associate at law firm Winckworth Sherwood, said that the BBC’s HR team is going to have to ensure that the broadcaster has a proper process in order to justify its pay packets.

Crawford told HR magazine the trial’s key takeaway for HR should be to ensure it is helping organisations properly assess pay.

“HR has to have a clear and methodical process of assessing both an individual’s pay and pay grades as a whole; it needs to be able to justify these with non-discriminatory purposes,” she said.

Emphasising the necessity for regular policy review, Crawford added: “HR must ensure it is compliant with the law and especially with equal pay [legislation]”.

Julien Cox, head of employment law at iLaw, agreed. “HR departments need to review their current pay-setting procedures to ensure that they clearly evidence why different individuals are paid more or less,” he said. “This should start at the beginning of an employee’s relationship from when they are recruited and continue throughout.”

Cox said that all employees should, as near as can be, receive equal pay for equal work. “If two employees have similar experience, responsibilities and work schedules then they should be paid roughly the same.”

It may be worth conducting a full pay review within your organisation to ensure that you are not falling foul of the rules, suggested Cox.

Matt Jenkin, partner and head of employment at Moorcrofts, told HR magazine that in his experience there has been a tendency to view equal pay claims as an issue only for large-scale public sector and retail employers. As such, many employees at smaller companies won’t pursue what can be a complex and costly claim at the tribunal.

“Ahmed’s case, along with others, showed that individuals are now more prepared to pursue these claims before the tribunal and are being successful in those claims, resulting in large payouts by way of compensation,” Jenkin said.

If HR does not treat equal pay claims seriously, Jenkin anticipated that they could find themselves in the same position as the BBC. He advised examining gender pay gaps to be a good starting point.

“While a gender pay gap does not in itself mean that there is an equal pay issue, it does assist in highlighting potential issues that may need further investigation.

"Once an equal pay issue is identified HR needs to act to resolve that rather than leaving it to the tribunal to make that assessment. Assuming that an employee won’t pursue the issue shouldn’t be an option.”

The #MeTooPay movement, led by former chief executive of Royal Mail Moya Greene, was prompted by City banker Stacey Macken’s equal pay tribunal against BNP Paribas in September 2019. The movement gained significant traction once well-known actors began sharing their own stories on social media, supporting the movement and promoting it to their millions of followers.

This piece appeared in the February 2020 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk

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