Discrimination over equal pay

Your Rights

Fact sheets

What is equal pay?

Workers have a legal right to equal pay for ‘like work’. This means that people who are doing the same or similar work, or work of the same value, must receive the same rate of pay. All contracts of employment are based on the unwritten principle that workers receive equal pay without discrimination.

The term ‘equal pay’ includes all forms of remuneration, including wages or salary, and also other benefits such as bonuses, company cars or subsidised meals. It does not cover pensions.

The right to equal pay for ‘like work’ is set out in the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 (EEA).

We have prepared a Code of Practice on Equal Pay which provides practical guidance on a number of issues, including how to identify pay inequality and eliminate it, how to conduct a pay review and how employees who feel they are not receiving equal pay can raise a complaint.

What is pay discrimination?

Discrimination in pay is when one employee is paid less than another on the basis of one of the nine ‘protected grounds’ listed in the EEA.

If you are paid less than a co-worker for a reason that is not one of these protected grounds, the issue is not covered under the Employment Equality Acts.

The nine protected grounds of discrimination are:

  • Gender (male, female, transgender, non-binary)
  • Civil status (single, married, separated, divorced, widowed, in a civil partnership)
  • Family status (e.g. pregnant, parent or carer)
  • Sexual orientation (e.g. heterosexual, LBGTQ+)
  • Age (for people aged 18 or over)
  • Religious belief (including religious background and those who have no belief)
  • Membership of the Traveller community
  • Race (colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin)
  • Disability (intellectual, mental or physical)

For example, it is against the law to pay a woman less than a man for doing the same job because of their gender, or to pay immigrant trainees less than Irish trainees, because of their nationality.

Types of discrimination in equal pay

The law sets our four types of discrimination based on the protected grounds listed above.

Direct discrimination happens when you are paid less than someone else simply because of a personal characteristic or circumstance, such as having a disability, going on maternity leave or not being an Irish citizen.

Indirect discrimination happens when a rule that applies to everybody puts you at a particular disadvantage.

Examples of indirect discrimination

Discrimination over the school run

A company offers full rates of pay for flexitime working but only for employees who are at their desk before 8.30am. This makes it difficult for parents of school-age children to qualify for full pay. The policy could be seen as indirect discrimination on the ground of family status.

Gender discrimination in job sharing

Office workers who job share get annual pay increases at a lower rate than full-time workers in the same office. As 99% of job sharers in that organisation are women, they can complain of indirect pay discrimination on the ground of gender.

Discrimination by imputation is when the employer mistakenly assumes you have a condition or characteristic on the protected grounds list, and illegally uses this as an excuse to pay you less. For example, they may pay you a lower rate because they think you have a learning disability, even though you do not. This would be discrimination by imputation on the protected ground of disability.

Discrimination by association is when the employer pays you less than another person because you have a connection or association with a third person who falls under one of the protected grounds. For example, where it could be shown that an employer chose to pay you less money than a co-worker because you have a relationship with a member of the Traveller community.

Exceptions to the equal pay rules

Special rules relating to maternity pay

Your contract may or may not include provision for maternity pay. However, you are entitled to the same pay increases during the maternity period that would apply if you were in work.

Special rules relating to disability

Employers are allowed to make special additional payments to people with disabilities and to provide special arrangements or facilities to enable them to do their work. This is set out in Section 35 of the EEA.

Special rules relating to age

The law states that offering different rates of pay based on seniority or years of service does not count as age discrimination, provided that the difference in pay can be justified.

Making a complaint about unequal pay

Who can make a complaint?

You can make a complaint if you are:

  • An employee with a contract of employment;
  • Working on a fulltime, part-time, permanent or temporary basis; or
  • Working for an agency or providing personal services in another person’s home.

If you take a case for equal pay to the Workplace Relations Commission, you will be known as the “complainant”.

Who do I make my complaint against?

You make your complaint against your employer, who is the person or organisation that you have a contract of employment with. They are called the ‘respondent’ in your dispute. Note that contracts can be written or verbal.

How do I show discrimination?

To make a complaint, you must show that you are being paid less than another employee who is doing similar work but who does not fall under the same ‘protected ground’ as you. To do this, you must identify a ‘comparator’ – a person that you can compare yourself to.

Who is the comparator?

The comparator is a real person who you must name, to show that you are being discriminated against by being paid less than them.  They must not fall under the same protected ground as you.

For example, it is direct discrimination if you have a disability and are paid less for doing ‘like work’ compared to John Breen, a co-worker who does not have a disability. In this example, John Breen is the comparator.

The comparator must be or must recently have been:

  • An employee of the same company as you (or a company linked to yours, such as a subsidiary of the same parent company)
  • Employed there within the last three years
  • Doing the same or similar work as you, or work that is of equal value
  • An actual named person or group of people, not a hypothetical case

In a case of indirect discrimination, you must identify a group of comparators rather than just one individual.

Example: Using men as a group of comparators in gender discrimination

Bonuses for full-time but not part-time work put women at a disadvantage

A company offers bonuses for full-time workers only. You could argue that this indirectly discriminates against female staff, as most of the full-time staff are men and most of the part-timers are women. You would have to name as comparators a group of male workers doing the same job on a full-time basis.

Exception: The only time you do not need to identify a comparator is in a case of gender discrimination where your employer is paying you less on the ground that you are pregnant or on maternity leave.

What evidence must I show?

The evidence can be:

  • Written – such as payslips, timesheets or a contract of employment
  • Spoken – testimony from a witness who has seen the work being done and can describe what it involves

Please note that not all contracts of employment are written documents. You may have made a verbal agreement to do a job for someone without signing your name on paper. The verbal agreement has legal status if you do the job and are paid for it.

Examples: Written evidence proves direct discrimination

Sexist pay rates in a care home

Ms J and Mr K are nurses at the same care home. Ms J claims she has been paid less than Mr K because she is a woman. Their salary slips show she is correct.

Age discrimination in a warehouse

A 58-year-old forklift-truck driver is on a lower wage rate than his 23-year-old co-worker. The older driver complains that he is paid less for moving the same number of crates as the younger man, because of his age. Both their timesheets back up his claim.

What is ‘like work’?

You and your comparator must be doing ‘like work’, which is work that is the same or similar or of equal value. Different types of job can be seen as like work if they are of equal value.

To assess equal value, you should take into account:

  • Skills needed to carry out the work
  • Physical or mental requirements
  • Responsibilities
  • Environment – including working conditions and the equipment used

For more details on ‘like work’, see our Code of Practice on Equal Pay.

Example: Different work but equal value

Female cleaners and male maintenance staff get equal pay

A group of female cleaners at a college complained that they were paid less than male maintenance operatives. Their employer argued that the men had different job titles and a different range of duties – outdoor as well as indoor, and gardening as well as maintenance. However, the women won their case on the ground of indirect gender discrimination, because their work was judged to be of equal value as the men’s, with equivalent levels of skill and responsibility.

How do I make a complaint?

You should make your complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). In cases of pay discrimination on the ground of gender, you can alternatively choose to start a case in the Circuit Court instead of the WRC. For the purposes of this note, we will focus on taking a case to the WRC.

Complete the form: On the WRC website, download the Workplace Relations Complaint form or complete it online. As the complainant, you are responsible for proving that you are being paid less on the basis of a protected ground, as listed above.

What should I include on my complaint form when taking an Equal Pay case?

On the form, you must:

  • Demonstrate you have (or had) a contract of employment with the respondent – the employer you are complaining about.
  • Identify a comparator or group of comparators who are paid more than you for doing ‘like work’.
  • Provide evidence that you are paid less than your comparator(s).
  • Show that your work is of equal value to the comparator(s).
  • Explain how the difference in pay relates to one of the protected grounds of discrimination.

Unlike other complaints of discrimination, you do not need to make a complaint within 6 months of the last date of discrimination. Instead, in equal pay complaints, you should make your complaint within six years of the alleged pay discrimination.

Example: More pay for different work is not discrimination

A female factory worker complains that she is paid less than a man who is doing the same work. The employer can justify the difference in pay by arguing that the man works on the night shift or has had special training.

Example: Paying more in a labour shortage is not discrimination

A GP complained that two younger female colleagues, who were also GPs, were being paid more than her. The employer justified the pay gap by showing that, when the comparators (the two younger GPs) had been recruited, there was a significant shortage of GPs, and the employer had needed to pay the higher rate.

How can I find the information I need to support my complaint?

There are various ways that you can seek information about possible pay discrimination, including the following options.

  • Ask for information about your employer’s pay rates under the Freedom of Information Act 2014. For details of what to ask for, see our guide [
  • You may be able to ask what information your employer holds about you under the Data Protection Act 2018. See our guide
  • You can do this before or after making your complaint.
  • You can ask your employer for information about, for example, pay scales for your colleagues under Section 76 of the EEA by using the Form EE.2. Information like this can help you decide whether or not to make a complaint. Your employer does not have to respond, but it may count against them if they fail to do so.
  • You cannot use this method to ask for confidential information about other individuals or about your employer’s business finances.
  • To seek information from an employer, use the form on the Workplace Relations Commission website.
  • The law requires larger employers to publish information about pay gaps between men and women under the Gender Pay Gap Information Act 2021 and the Gender Pay Gap Information Regulations 2022. The legislation currently applies to employers with 250 or more employees, all public sector bodies, and all bodies receiving public funding. If your employer does not publish this information, you may be able to apply to the Circuit Court or High Court for an order directing your employer to do so.
  • You can ask your employer for a job evaluation. This involves examining the work and pay structure of particular groups of workers. You can use the resulting information to support your complaint. For guidance, see our Code of Practice.

What happens after I complete the form?

The WRC will appoint an Adjudication Officer to investigate the dispute and make a decision on your complaint. The matter will be scheduled for hearing, during which the Adjudication Officer will examine the complaint form you have submitted, as well as any written legal submissions you have made any evidence you have produced.

If the Adjudication Officer is satisfied that you have shown the elements outlined above i.e. like work, comparator, protected ground etc., it is then up to the employer to show they either:

  • Did not discriminate against you, or
  • Have a good legal reason (called an ‘objective justification’) for so discriminating.

Find out more about what to expect at a WRC adjudication hearing.

How can employers justify unequal pay?

An employer’s reason to justify a difference in pay may include:

  • The difference in rates of pay has nothing to do with a protected ground of discrimination.
    • Example: In a recent decision of the WRC, a university lecturer demonstrated that she was engaging in “like work” with a male comparator that she identified. However, the university successfully demonstrated that the difference in pay was not due to the employee’s gender, but because the male lecturer had more years of service working at the university than the complainant.
  • You and your comparator are not doing ‘like work’ or work of equal value.
  • Your comparator has greater length of service or higher qualifications.
  • You are not able to carry out some of your usual tasks due to ill health (known as ‘red circling’).
  • Market forces – where a shortage of job applicants leads the employer to offer higher rates to new recruits.
  • Collective bargaining – for example, where negotiations with unions lead the employer to agree higher rates for certain groups for the sake of better industrial relations.

How to contact Your Rights service

Your Rights

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

16-22 Green Street

Dublin 7

D07 CR20

Last updated December 2023