Employers must not be complacent about the European Court of Justice ruling on the Cadman equal pay claim, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
The court rejected a claim by Bernadette Cadman, who said her employer, the Health and Safety Executive, was unjustified in paying her male colleagues more because they had not taken time off for childcare.
Dianah Worman, diversity adviser at the CIPD, said the ruling still left employers with unequal pay policies wide open to legal challenges.
“The European Court of Justice ruling is a reminder to employers that they cannot just rely on the fact that a woman has been employed for less time than her male counterparts,” she said.
“The simple rule is, if you are paying men and women at different rates for the same job, then you must still have a very strong business case for doing it. Relying on different lengths of service alone will still leave employers liable to expensive losses in front of employment tribunals.”
But the CBI said the European Court of Justice ruling would not have a significant impact on employers.
Susan Anderson, CBI director of HR policy, said: “The court has taken a common-sense approach which recognises that employers need to be able to reward the knowledge and skills that can grow with experience.”
“The judgment will not bring radical change to workplace practices.Employers have not been given a free hand to discriminate against working mothers, and neither have the floodgates been opened to a glut of equal pay claims,” she said.
Anderson said women who take extended time off work for childcare may need to update their skills when they return to work, and this will be reflected in their pay.
Cadman sued the Health and Safety Executive in 2001 when she discovered she was earning up to £9,000 a year less than male workers in the same post.