Whilst most claims in the Employment Tribunal have to be brought within three months a claim for equal pay may be brought within six months. That time limit will run from the last day of the employment or “the day on which the stable working relationship ended”. The case of Barnard v Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority concerned the question of whether those time limits would be triggered where an employee continues to be employed in an organisation but their role changes.
Ms Barnard had been employed in the Fire Service since 2009. She had progressed from an administrative grade into technical roles and then into a managerial position. On each promotion when the new role began she was issued with a new contract. However when her employment came to an end she submitted a claim in the Employment Tribunal for equal pay which related to her latest position and some earlier roles.
The employer argued that any claim in respect of her earlier roles was out of time as more than six months had passed since she had left those jobs. However it was held that her promotions and advancement into a managerial position were a “natural” part of her incremental progression. This was a factor that supported the claimant’s position that there was a continuing stable working relationship between the parties throughout her career in the Fire Service.
In order to reduce the risk of equal pay claims it will be best to put in place a clear and transparent pay structure so that employees will be able to understand the reasons behind any differences in pay. In the absence of any pay structure it will be important to assess pay comparisons when an employee is appointed and when they are later promoted. Otherwise as this case highlights it could lead to claims being brought a number of years later.