The Employment Tribunal has held in Homer v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police ET/1803238/2007 that a requirement to hold a law degree in order to progress up an employer's pay scale was not objectively justified.
Mr Homer was a police officer for 30 years before joining the West Yorkshire Police as a legal adviser in 1995. At that time, new recruits were required to have either (a) a legal degree or equivalent degree or (b) exceptional experience in criminal law combined with a lesser legal qualification. Mr Homer was in the latter category. In 2005, a new three-tiered pay structure was introduced. An employee needed a law degree in order to reach the third pay tier and this meant that Mr Homer's application to reach that threshold was rejected. He brought a claim for age discrimination.
The Tribunal found that the requirement to hold a law degree was not a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim and therefore not objectively justified – and therefore amounted to unlawful age discrimination. The employer's stated reason for the requirement was to recruit and retain high quality staff. The Tribunal held that it would have been reasonably practicable to introduce the new pay structure for new recruits but to provide for all existing staff to progress without the law degree requirement. There was no evidence that any clients had requested that advisors have a law degree or complained about the quality of the existing service.
This case should serve as a note of caution to employers considering introducing new pay or benefit requirements. It should still be possible to apply those requirements, but care must be taken to ensure that they are non-discriminatory for both current and prospective employees.