The huge equal pay claim that Tesco is facing will look at a comparison between shop employees, who are predominantly female and who earn around £8 an hour, and warehouse employees, who are predominantly male and earn up to £11 an hour. This is a scenario which is seen in many organisations, and stems from decisions no doubt made years ago that saw the grubbier and more labour intensive jobs needing to be paid more either as a basic wage or in bonuses as an incentive for them to attend work.
In the case against Tesco, the comparison is shop employees versus warehouse employees, but previous claims have been canteen assistants versus bin men, and teaching assistants versus school caretakers. The former roles tending to be held by female employees and the latter by male, and, as many will at this point guess, the latter role being paid more.
Often, as Tesco will argue, the reason for the difference was a due to a decision years ago to incentivise the male dominated roles, and over the years the gap has simply increased rather than it being a conscious decision to apply different pay rates. This is no defence though.
While equal pay legislation has been around for decades, Tesco employees were no doubt waiting to hear the outcome of similar litigation against Asda, which was decided earlier this year, before bringing these proceedings. I am sure that we will see many more claims against large employers as a result of this momentum.
This issue goes deeper than simply making sure that a female employee is paid the same as a male employee doing the same role. All employers should now be considering whether they could justify the difference in pay between different categories of employees.
Amy Richardson is associate solicitor, employment at Coffin Mew