Being paid less than your co-workers? Here’s where to start.

You’ve just walked into the lunch room, where you overhear a male colleague gushing about his recent pay rise. Your stomach suddenly knots — where’s your pay rise? Don’t you have the same expertise as your co-worker? If you have evidence that you’re being paid less than your colleagues for the same work, now’s the time to have a conversation with your boss.

Let’s look at the facts

Australia’s gender pay gap currently stands at 17.9%, which means that, on average, a woman would have to work an extra 60 days per year to earn the same as a man. According to the Equal Pay Day Alliance, 45.6% of all employees are women, yet women make up close to 70% of all part-time employees and nearly 60% of casual employees.

The ‘motherhood penalty’

The gender pay gap exists for various reasons, but balancing motherhood with work is among the most conspicuous, and it’s an issue that we still haven’t resolved. Women often elect to return to the workforce part-time so they can nurture their children. Unfortunately, this decision can incur the ‘motherhood penalty’, which can have a significant impact on their careers.

Many women in high-profile work, such as lawyers, CEOs and senior executives, find that their career goals are less achievable in a part-time capacity compared with working full-time. In addition, their need to work fewer hours can lead to their being pushed into lower-paid work.

When women return to work after a prolonged time away from the office, they often feel like they have to play catch-up, which is another factor making it hard for mums to climb the corporate ladder.

Valid reasons for pay discrepancies

Employers are obliged to pay workers equally and fairly. Failure to do so can be grounds for a discrimination case. However, co-workers can be on different pay rates for valid reasons. For example, an employee who has recently completed company training programs to acquire new and improved skills has the edge when requesting a pay rise. And if a senior associate has performed their role for more years than another senior associate has, that experience takes them to a higher pay grade or level.

What you can do

If you feel that your employer is underpaying you for doing the same, or similar, work as your colleagues or even workers in comparable roles in other industries do, raise your concerns with management. To give yourself the best chance of success, take the following steps to ensure you’re prepared:

  • Do your research: check your company’s website or job-listings sites for roles similar to yours so you can see what they’re offering. Read the job descriptions to see how theymeasure up to yours. Do you have the necessary skills to meet that pay range?
  • Make a list of all your skills and qualifications, and include any training programs you’ve completed.
  • Find out whether an award covers your role, and if so, check the government pay guide to see whether you’re being paid correctly.
  • Give your contract (or award) and job description a thorough read. Have you taken on extra duties that you need to address?
  • Talk to your co-workers about your concerns if you feel comfortable doing so. They may be willing to be open about their salaries, so you can ask why they think their pay rates are higher than yours. You may find that they have greater skills or that they’ve been working for longer than you have.
  • Make a time to meet with your managerand show them your research, explaining why you think they’re underpaying you. Ask for a salary review and ensure they’re aware of any new and improved attributes that will enhance your work.

Your employer may have incorrectly classified your pay, and you can usually sort this out with management. If you still have concerns, talk with someone from human resources or your union representative.

If these approaches fail, consider discussing your case with a lawyer; a legal expert may be able to give you a better sense of whether your employer is discriminating against you. If you reach this point, you shouldn’t worry about being victimised for coming forward — remember that your case is always confidential unless you ask your lawyer to approach your employer.

If you think your employer is paying you unfairly, your best bet is to be up-front with your boss and start a conversation. Explain why you think your pay is unfair, and why you believe your pay should equal that of your co-workers. If the situation is still in doubt after this, contact a lawyer.

TOPIC: Employment law
RELATED LEGAL SERVICES: Employment law

Share this article on:

Alexandra Grayson

Maurice Blackburn Sydney
Alexandra (Alex) Grayson is a Principal who manages the Employment and Industrial Relations Practice of Maurice Blackburn’s Sydney office. She has almost 20 years’ experience in industrial relations, including almost a decade as a labour lawyer. The prestigious Doyles Guide lists Alex as a recommended lawyer for employee and trade union representation in NSW in 2017 and her team as one of the top law firms for employee & trade union representation in NSW in 2017. Alex is a passionate and committed lawyer with a keen interest in social justice and industrial relations. Her clients have included many senior executives within the finance and banking sector, the legal fraternity and in the public sector. She helps people through their difficult times by negotiating with their employers and, if necessary, litigating on their behalf. Alex is particularly skilled in litigation, strategic negotiations, interpreting industrial instruments and contracts, advocacy and providing legal advice to executives. Areas of her practice include advice and representation on workplace bullying, sexual harassment, breach of contract, redundancy situations and restraint of trade issues. Alex is in a unique position. In addition to her extensive experience as a labour lawyer, she has a deep understanding of what it is to be an executive, as she also sits on the board of the superannuation fund, HostPlus, as a Director. “Knowing that people of all walks of life need my help and that my help can get them through one of the most difficult times, ie when they are in trouble at work or when they need help on landing a good employment contract or a smooth exit, is what drives me to fight for my clients,” says Alexandra. “My family has a long history of involvement in industrial relations. It’s a tradition I am proud to continue by working as a labour lawyer, helping people who need assistance in navigating the minefield that is workplace relations.” Alex has personally advocated cases in the Industrial Relations Commission of New South Wales, the Chief Industrial Magistrate’s Court, the Fair Work Commission and the former Australian Industrial Relations Commission. She also appears in the High Court of Australia, the Federal Court of Australia, the Supreme Court of NSW, the Court of Appeal (NSW), the Anti Discrimination Board of NSW, the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal and the NSW Industrial Court. Alex has many career highlights, including: preventing the Commonwealth Bank of Australia from forcing the entire workforce onto individual contracts, see: Finance Sector Union v Commonwealth Bank of Australia [2000] FCA 1372  the making by a Full Bench of the Industrial Relations Commission of New South Wales of the first Safe Staffing Award for prisons in Australia, see: Crown Employees (Corrective Services NSW — Safe Staffing Levels) Award (369 1-.G. 1228) High Court proceedings involving a constitutional challenge to legislation, see: Public Service Association and Professional Officers Association Amalgamated Union of NSW v Director of Public Employment [2012] HCA 58, and persuading a Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission to provide a broad interpretation of the concept of the reasonableness of redeployment. see: Pykett v Technical and Further Education Commission [2014] FWCFB 714. Alex regularly presents at many industry functions and legal seminars and has previously worked at the Industrial Relations Commission of New South Wales and tutored in industrial relations at the University of Western Sydney. Associations & memberships NSW Law Society member HostPlus Board Director Listed in Doyles Guide 2017 ...

Read more

See all contributors