The time limit for bringing an equal pay claim in the Employment Tribunal is six months; in the civil courts, it is six years. There is clearly a benefit in using the civil courts. However, equal pay legislation provides that where the operation of an "equality clause" could more conveniently be disposed of separately by an Employment Tribunal, the court may direct that the claim be struck out. Should this provision be operated in circumstances where the limitation period for bringing a claim in the Employment Tribunal has expired?
In the recent case of Birmingham City Council v Abdulla, the High Court said no, holding that this provision should never be used to strike out an equal pay claim when it cannot be issued in an Employment Tribunal because it is out of time. This means that employers are vunerable to equal pay claims by their employees for up to six years if they are brought as breach of contract claims in the civil courts.
Top tip - More generally readers will recall that the Coalition Government has made it clear that it favours employers adopting voluntary initiatives to achieve equal pay in the workplace and it appears unlikely that the Government will impose compulsory audits on pay and other such mechanisms in the foreseeable future. Of course any employee may at any time send their employer a statutory questionnaire under the Equality Act 2010 enquiring about colleagues' levels of pay and the imposition of contractual clauses prohibiting employees from discussing their pay arrangements has been outlawed.