Employers are being urged to right a 35 year wrong by finally giving women equal pay for equal work -averting the threat of legal action at the same time.
The call comes from Ranjit Dhindsa, head of employment law in the Midlands office of international law firm Reed Smith.
"There is the right thing to do, and the wrong thing to do," said Ms Dhindsa. "This is very much the right thing to do - and by doing it employers can protect themselves from the risk of being dragged before an employment tribunal by the Equal Opportunities Commission."
She was responding to newly- issued statistics revealing that 35 years after the Equal Pay Act became law, women are still paid significantly less than men for more or less identical jobs.
Equal pay embraces things like holiday and sick pay benefits as well as wages, bonuses, and redundancy terms.
Ms Dhindsa said: "Women in full time employment are still earning 18 per cent on average less than their male counterparts, and the gap is even wider for part-timers, where women's pay is 40 per cent lower."
Ms Dhindsa believes part of the reason could be the complexity of the way in which the legislation was set up.
"Anyone who wants to sue under the Equal Pay Act first has to find a comparator - someone either doing the same, or equivalent job, or a different job of the same value to the business."
The evidence then has to be tested before a tribunal, at which the company gives reasons for any pay differences.
In cases where inequality has been established the employer can face hefty penalties. In addition to the cost of mounting a defence, and damage to reputation resulting from bad publicity, companies can be ordered to stump up the difference in pay for the previous six years.
"The Equal Opportunities Commission is suggesting an alternative to the current situation," Ms Dhindsa said.
"They recommend that companies carry out their own regular 'equality checks' to spot pay gaps as they arise, and look very closely at whether they are justified.
"They suggest that employers who do this should be given a reasonable period to sort out any anomalies before any legal action is taken."
Two years ago the Government made an attempt to give teeth to the Equal Pay Act by giving employees the right to serve equal pay questionnaires on employers, demanding details of any criteria on which pay scales are based, and how differentials are justified.
It was intended to act as a wake up call to companies to take action before they were sued.
"What amazes me is that hardly anybody bothers with a questionnaire - not even the unions who might have been expected to jump at the chance of getting this kind of information," Ms Dhindsa added.