Employment disputes: Shoring up defences makes sense in a colder climate

  12 February 2018

Tesco’s share price tumbled 2.4% after lawyers Leigh Day announced it was bringing a case on behalf of female staff on the shopfloor and tills, who believe they should be paid the same as male colleagues in the warehouse.

It’s said Tesco could face a bill of around £4 billion should it lose. But, behind the headlines, this case provides some interesting food for thought for all businesses.

Firstly, there is a lot of hot air around the Tesco case, the figure being floated by Leigh Day is a bit of a publicity stunt and any awards will be years away. There are arguments on both sides – should someone doing a physically more demanding job in unpleasant conditions earn more than someone who is customer facing and often handling cash? There is also the demand and supply issue. Indeed, a blog in The Spectator, calls on the Government to “reform equality legislation before it is too late”, arguing such claims will bankrupt businesses and destroy thousands of jobs.

Where do you stand on this? In the current climate it’s hard to see even a Conservative government taking any action that could be viewed as negative on equality issues.

Dealerships clearly have smaller workforces who will be on higher salaries than supermarket employees. But, now is the time to check employment practices are watertight, because male as well as female workers are increasingly prepared to speak up if they believe there has been unfair treatment.

The number of employment tribunals rose by two-thirds in the third quarter of last year, a rise prompted by workers not being charged for bringing cases. Further, the number of whistle-blower reports to HMRC over suspected underpayment of the national minimum wage more than doubled last year.

It makes sense to see if there are any potential ‘nasties’ in terms of someone’s employment contract, work procedures or any grievance that has not been properly addressed.

Certainly, with falling sales and pressure on businesses rising, many firms want to pay their employees less and for them to work harder. But, get things wrong and there could be repercussions, both monetary and reputational, and lawyers are hungry for business.


Rachel Gordon


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