The British multinational clothes company, Next, has been taken to court by its employees after claims that the company did not pay its workers equal wages. 

Next employees have brought claims against their employer after stating that their work within the store is of equal value to the work carried out by employees in the warehouses.

Similarly to the Tesco equal pay case currently ongoing, warehouse workers at Next are paid £2-£6 more per hour than those on the shop floor. Most of the warehouse worker roles are filled by men whilst the majority of the shop floor workers bringing forward this claim are women.

Over 330 Next employees have raised claims as of this current time. Leigh Day, the law firm representing Next employees, have estimated that if all eligible workers joined this claim, the payout could be as high as £200 million.

In addition, Leigh Day have accused Next of destroying “vital documents” that were linked to the equal pay case. If so, the law firm has warned the retailer that this could lead to a ‘strike out’ order which could prohibit Next from defending itself from any equal pay claims.

Speaking to the Independent, Elizabeth George, a barrister at Leigh Day, said:

It appears that essential documents to our case have been destroyed. Next will have a full opportunity to explain how and why that was allowed to happen at the hearing in January and it would be wrong to pre-empt the Tribunal’s ruling on that.

I can say that it is fundamental to a fair hearing of this case that neither side destroy documents that they know, or should know, are highly relevant to the other’s case.

However, Next has strongly denied these claims, with a spokesperson for the company saying:

Next has not destroyed documents in breach of a Tribunal Order and it believes that any assertion that it has, is based upon inaccurate information.

Next is therefore confident that any application for a ‘Strike-Out-Order’ will not succeed, as it is meeting all of its obligations under the Tribunal process.

A tribunal date has been set for 12th January 2021 where an employment tribunal will resolve what happened to these “vital documents” and whether Next will pay a penalty regarding this.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula, a HR consultancy firm, said:

With issues of workplace equality remaining a key topic in the press, employers need to be aware of the dangers for both financial, and reputational, damage if they are taken to a tribunal over issues of equal pay.

It should be remembered that jobs do not need to be seen as identical; claimants can argue that, as their roles are similar to someone being paid more than them who is a member of a different gender, they are being discriminated against. Employers must be willing to carefully consider how rates of pay are set and ensure company-wide consistency.