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Re-grading staff could beat discrimination claims, says Acas

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  • Re-grading staff could beat discrimination claims, says Acas

    Employers should undertake job evaluation programmes to avoid being caught up in the escalating number of discrimination claims reaching Employment Tribunals, the Government's dispute resolution service has said.

    The number of Employment Tribunal or potential Tribunal claims has risen by 25% in a year according to employment mediation body Acas. It said that the rise was partly attributable to equal pay claims, which could be avoided if employers undertake job evaluations.

    Job evaluation is the process of creating pay grades in relation to all the jobs carried out in an organisation. Most evaluation happens historically or informally and Acas has published a guide to carrying out evaluations because it believes that in some cases it makes sense to have a more systematic and objective process in place.

    "The aim of a job evaluation scheme is to provide a hierarchy of jobs that is free from discrimination and ‘felt to be fair’ by your employees," says the Acas guidance. "Although many employees might feel that job evaluation should move them up the ‘pecking order’ at work, in reality jobs can move up, down or stay the same."

    Acas said that pay based on objective job evaluation schemes can pre-emptively defend against claims that workers are paid less than other workers because of discrimination based on their personal characteristics.

    "Employers sometimes find it hard to justify their grading and pay systems. Putting in place a job evaluation scheme can remedy this and can also help prevent equality and HR-related problems from arising," said report author Frank Blair, director of Acas Scotland.

    Acas said that some employers are only forced to face long-established discrimination when they are taken to Tribunals over inequalities. It warned against, for example, automatically paying less for jobs done by women.

    Local authorities across the UK have faced large numbers of backdated equal pay claims from women who have successfully argued that they were paid less than male counterparts for years.

    Acas's guide to implementing a job evaluation programme said that it can have secondary benefits, such as employers having clearly defined job specifications and sets of responsibilities for each role.

    Acas warned, though, that the process can be divisive, difficult and can cause legal problems. Some employees are likely to end up in lower pay brackets than they currently qualify for, and the organisation should have a clear view of how it will deal with those, said Acas.

    Though it is possible to protect current workers' wages when they are technically downgraded, Acas warned that organisations should take legal advice because that in itself could open them up to equal pay claims after the evaluation.

    "Acas is urging businesses to be fully prepared before embarking on introducing job evaluation," said Blair. "A good number of the difficulties encountered by organisations will be avoided by adequate preparation."

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