Supermarket behemoth Asda are ‘disappointed’ to have lost an appeal in the latest development of a long-standing legal dispute with their employees over equal pay – the BBC reports.
This ruling means that lower paid shop staff – who are predominantly women – can compare themselves with higher paid warehouse workers – who are said to be predominantly men. Despite losing the appeal, Asda is reportedly confident with the continuation of the case. Asda said in a statement:
"We are obviously disappointed with the decision, which relates to a preliminary issue of whether jobs in different parts of the business can be compared."
The supermarket chain announced that it launched the appeal because " it involved complex legal issues which have never been fully tested in the private sector and we will continue to ensure this case is given the legal scrutiny it deserves".
Martha McKinley, a Solicitor at law firm, Stephensons, told HR Grapevine: “I would suggest one of the key reasons Asda is disappointed with this judgement is the significant financial impact that would result from accepting liability for this type of claim, particularly given the number of employees involved and the historic nature of many equal pay claims.”
McKinley explains that equal pay is a “notoriously complex of law” and employers such as Asda will “no doubt be keen to ensure that the various tests are in fact applicable to the workers in this particular claim”.
Leigh Day - the law firm representing Asda employees in this court battle who has also taken legal action taken against other large supermarket chains - said that the court judgement was a “major step forward in the fair pay battle”.
A ruling over whether the work carried out between shop floor workers and warehouse staff is of ‘equal value’ is likely to be announced in May.
How did the case unfold?
In October 2016, the Employment Tribunal first ruled against Asda claiming that shop workers, who mainly work at the check-out desks or restocking shelves, could compare themselves to staff employed at their various warehouses.
Since then, the BBC reported that Asda has appealed this decision on ten different grounds.
The following year in October 2017, the Employment Tribunal ruled that all of their points of appeal were ineffective, and this probed Asda to take its case to the Court of Appeal.
Following yesterday’s ruling, the Court of Appeal denied Asda the right to appeal – though it has been rumoured that the chain has intentions of applying to the Supreme Court to reverse the ruling.
McKinley suggests that with this court battle ongoing, employees remaining within the workplace can be left feeling stressed and it could dampen the company’s culture.
She added: “Giving evidence against your colleagues, or hearing managers give evidence against you obviously doesn’t improve working relationships and can result in a deterioration of employee engagement and company culture.”
Yet, despite the arguably negative comeuppance of appealing a case like this, Asda are not the only supermarket behemoth to be challenging their employees in an equal pay row.
Last year, Morrisons was at the centre of an equal pay row after eight of its shop floor employees sought compensation over the belief that they were paid less than their warehouse-based colleagues.
Multiple news outlets covering the story reported that the workers – who were predominantly women – were seeking compensation for unequal pay which could have cost the retailer a whopping £1billion if the case was successful.
Why is equal pay so important?
According to equalityhumanrights.com, providing equal pay is essential in order to comply with the law by identifying, explaining and eliminating unjustifiable pay gaps. This will also contribute to a fairer society in which everyone has equal opportunities.
CoreHR CEO Dean Forbes told HR Grapevine that Asda’s court battle case really “hammers the reality that there are no easy answers to ensuring equal pay across complex organisations”.
“The changing nature of work, coupled with evolving legislation, means HR and management must evaluate workers with vastly different experience and skill sets.
“That’s a difficult task for any organisation, but for those with a workforce in the thousands, it is simply not possible without the help of technology and data analytics. Truly understanding your organisation through data will highlight troubling statistics. If the average female employee is earning less than the average male employee, there is likely something to be done,” he concluded.