If an employee believes she (it`s usually a she, but don`t count on it!) is being paid less than a male comparator she can bring a claim in the employment tribunal. Generally speaking she can bring a claim at any time during her employment or within 6 months of her employment coming to an end.
However, the High Court has today decided that equal pay claims can also be brought in the civil courts as breach of contract claims. The time limit for bringing breach of contract claims is 6 years.
The equal pay claims involved over 170 employees of Birmingham City Council. The Council argued that the claims should be struck out on the basis that the civil courts do not have or should not exercise jurisdiction in cases involving equal pay - particularly where the 6 month time limit for bringing claims in the Employment Tribunal has expired.
The Deputy Judge disagreed. He held that the High Court did have jurisdiction and declined to strike out the claims which had been brought within the 6 year limitation period for breach of contract claims.
The council is entitled to renew its application to the Court of Appeal, so this position may change. However, for the time being employers should be aware that employees who left employment some years ago may still be able to bring equal pay claims. This may happen where an employer has recently lost an equal pay claim in the Tribunal and former employees who were not aware of the litigation at the time get to hear of it.
It`s not all doom and gloom though. Unlike the Tribunal, employees who lose court claims have to pay costs. This may put off a lot of potential claimants.Employmentbuddy
has a range of documents on equal pay.