From a legal perspective, equal pay claims are relatively hard and complex. However, without wishing to be over-critical, there seem to be some extreme mistakes in the way that the BBC approached Samira Ahmed’s complaints. The Tribunal judgment in the claim suggests that the BBC should never have allowed her complaint to get beyond the internal grievance stage, and certainly not to a final Tribunal hearing.
- The BBC tried to establish the historical pay levels for Samira Ahmed’s job presenting Newswatch and Jeremy Vine’s job presenting Points of View by putting forward undated, unattributed, and in some respects incorrect documents rather than witness evidence. Unsurprisingly, the Tribunal attributed little weight to them.
- Prior to 2018 the BBC had no structure in place for “talent” pay. Instead, it operated a haphazard and inconsistent approach. In some senses its practices were shambolic – the team who initially negotiated Jeremy Vine’s pay for Points of View seemed to be unaware that he was already under exclusive contract to the BBC, but gave in to a threat from his agent that he might move to a rival broadcaster.
- The BBC appeared to take great comfort from a PWC report in January 2018 which found that, although the BBC applied no “consistent evaluation and governance” to the pay of over 800 individuals amongst its population of talent, there was no evidence of gender bias. With respect, this failed to even ask the correct question, never mind answer it helpfully.
- When it did introduce a grading system for talent roles later in 2018, Ms Ahmed’s role was hastily and obscurely classified.
- She was offered “consultation” about the grading decision, but this was found to be a charade as the decision had already been confirmed at the highest level.
- When dealing with her grievance, the BBC mistakenly treated Points of View as an entertainment programme, contrary to its own documented classification of it as a factual programme.
- At the Tribunal hearing, the BBC tried to explain Mr Vine’s pay by reference to factors that only existed after it was set, or by saying that a “twinkle in the eye” was required to present Points of View but not for Newswatch, even though both are 15 minute pre-recorded programmes in which the presenter reads a script from an autocue (even Mr Vine’s occasional, comedic rolling of the eyes during his programme was scripted).
The main lessons for employers are simple:
- Understand and document the content of different roles in order to evaluate whether they are similar or of equal value.
- Set pay by reference to the job itself – do not be distracted by external factors.
- Be consistent and transparent.