The BBC has been cleared of unlawful pay discrimination after an investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, although the equality watchdog has warned that female employees have lost trust in the organisation’s pay practices.
The independent inquiry follows years of disputes between BBC bosses and women who claimed to be illegally underpaid, with hundreds of cases being settled with women receiving pay rises or backpay.
While many cases were settled through internal processes, some women were forced to take lengthy legal action. Earlier this year, the BBC presenter Samira Ahmed won a £700,000 employment tribunal case against the corporation after the BBC was unable to explain why she was paid less than her male counterparts for doing equivalent work.
Under equal pay legislation, it is illegal to pay women less than men for doing the same work. This is a separate issue to the wider societal concern about the gender pay gap, where men dominate higher-paid jobs.
Although the EHRC cleared the corporation overall, it said that the potential for pay discrimination had occurred because too much discretion was given to individual managers to set salaries. Poor record-keeping meant that managers were sometimes unable to explain to people why they were being paid differently to those doing the same or similar work.
Caroline Waters, interim chair of the EHRC, said: “It is easy to see why trust between some women at the BBC and the organisation has broken down. Many women felt their voices were not being heard and have been left feeling confused as to how decisions about their pay have been made. This took a heavy emotional toll on those involved in the process and the strength of feeling of women at the BBC should not be understated.
“We did not find unlawful pay discrimination in the cases we analysed during our investigation. However, we did identify themes relating to past pay practices that could give rise to a risk of pay discrimination.
“It is sad that we are still having to debate equal pay for equal work. Equal pay is the law and has been for 50 years. Every employer should read this report and ask if they are doing all they can to reduce the risk of pay discrimination. If in doubt, take action now.”