Amid unprecedented challenges faced by employers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, gender pay gap reporting has fallen down the priority list, but the gap in pay between men and women may be rising.
Business in the Community (BITC) has announced that only 5,081 organisations have published their gender pay gap reports for 2018/2019, which is less than 50% of the number of organisations that published reports for 2017/2018. This follows the announcement from the Government Equalities Office and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) that enforcement of the gender pay gap reporting deadlines for 2020 would be suspended in response to the “unprecedented uncertainty and pressure” on employers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gender pay gap reports would otherwise have been due from public sector bodies by 30 March, and from large private sector employers by 4 April 2020. However, BITC continues to encourage organisations to publish reports on a voluntary basis and has raised concerns that a failure to do so could result in gender equality being “pushed back a generation”.
In normal circumstances, the EHRC has the power to investigate employers that fail to report their gender pay gap and could impose an unlimited fine. With both the legal requirement and enforcement measures being suspended, it is unsurprising albeit disappointing that so many organisations have opted out of publishing their gender pay gap data. It may also be a concerning indication of attitudes towards the importance of gender equality in these uncertain times. Gender pay gap reporting is an essential tool in tackling gender equality in the workplace and the lack of data and transparency could be a further example of women being disproportionately affected by the pandemic (see “Fifty years of the Equal Pay Act – is it enough?”).
There have been two previous rounds of gender pay gap reporting to date, and this year’s deadline would have been for the third round. Data published last year for 2017/2018 showed that almost eight in 10 organisations paid men more than women on average. The limited data that has been published for 2018/2019 so far indicates an increase in the difference between male and female median pay, despite the Office for National Statistics stating in October that the aggregated pay gap across the economy had decreased. There is hope that organisations will still publish their data when the current crisis has passed, particularly given the reporting data is based on a snapshot date in April last year so most employers will already have the data available.