Just weeks after the government signalled that employers would not be penalised for failing to submit their gender pay gap data, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has now confirmed that enforcement for non-reporting will be suspended for six months.
The suspension – due to the impact of Covid-19 (Coronavirus) on businesses – is widely being interpreted as giving organisations an extended deadline of 5 October.
Baroness Kishwer Falkner, chair of the EHRC, said: “We know businesses are still facing challenging times. Starting our legal process in October strikes the right balance between supporting businesses and enforcing these important regulations.”
But she maintained that the suspension is not a green-light to ignore pay gap reporting rules, and that organisations should still try and submit their data by the original 4 April deadline.
She said: “Employers should still report their gender pay gap data for 2020/21 on time if they can and we encourage them to demonstrate the steps they are taking to reduce long-term pay gaps through detailed action plans.”
She added: “Taking action to reduce the gender pay gap must continue. Reporting provides an opportunity for employers to demonstrate their commitment to gender equality, which will be more important than ever as the effects of the pandemic continue.”
The decision to delay enforcement has been welcomed by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI): “The Coronavirus crisis cannot be allowed to undermine companies’ commitments to tackle all forms of inequality, so resuming mandatory gender pay gap reporting is the right thing to do,” said Matthew Fell, CBI chief UK policy director.
He added: “Businesses will welcome certainty about what they are expected to disclose, and by when. Reinstating enforcement from October 2021 will ensure that all firms within scope publish their data, while giving those who have been closed for most of the last year more time to do so.”
The news was also welcomed by the government’s Equality Hub, which described the delay of enforcement as “the correct decision”.
But Claire McCartney, senior resourcing and inclusion adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, expressed worry that the move would send the wrong message to employers.
“The earlier that employers report their findings, the better position they will be in to take action and make meaningful change,” she said. “We have concerns that delayed enforcement could send the wrong signal to employers that reporting can go on the backburner.”
She added: “Economically, women have been adversely and disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Now is not the time for employers to take their foot of the pedal when it comes to their commitment to closing the gender pay gap.”
Labour’s shadow women and equalities secretary, Marsha De Cordova, agreed. She said: “It is unacceptable that the government will not reinstate gender pay gap reporting sooner. All the evidence shows that the pandemic is having awful consequences for women’s labour market representation.”