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Businesses told they won't have to report their gender pay gap amid coronavirus outbreak

Minister for Women & Equalities Liz Truss confirmed gender pay gap reporting is suspended (PA)

3 min read

The Government has told firms they will not have to report on their gender pay gap due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Rules on submitting the data for all businesses and organisations with over 250 employees have been suspended for 12 months, after an announcement by Liz Truss, the Minister for Women and Equalities.

Public sector bodies had faced a deadline of 30 March, with private companies due to submit their figures on 4 April, but this will now be deferred for a year amid unprecedented economic disruption caused by the spread of Covid-19.

In a joint statement with Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) chair David Isaac, Ms Truss said: “We recognise that employers across the country are facing unprecedented uncertainty and pressure at this time. 

"Because of this we feel it is only right to suspend enforcement of gender pay gap reporting this year.”

The reporting requirement was brought in under the Equality Act in 2017, with the Government defining the gender pay gap as "the difference between the average earnings of men and women, expressed relative to men’s earnings”.

It means businesses are required to report their average hourly wage and bonus gaps to the EHRC, which can name-and-shame those who fail to comply - which it did with 47 organisations last year.

They also have the power to investigate those employers, and levy and unlimited fine after court action, though so far have not taken such action.

The move was welcomed by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, who said employers will welcome the “extra breathing space that they can use to focus on the urgent task at hand of protecting their workforce and the business”

But its senior adviser Charles Cotton added: "When normality starts to return, we encourage employers to turn their attention back to this important agenda.

“Most organisations should already have their gender pay data to hand, so if they are in a position to submit their figures then we would strongly encourage their HR teams to do so, especially if they have a narrative and action plan ready to publish as well. 

“This will help demonstrate that, notwithstanding the current crisis, their employers are looking towards the future and playing their part in creating a fairer workplace."

But the Fawcett Society warned the Government response to the coronavirus crisis “must not be gender-blind”.

Sam Smethers, the group’s chief executive, told PoliticsHome: "We know that women will be disproportionately affected by the economic impacts of the pandemic, it will be mothers who will take on the majority of care for the children who are not in nursery or school, women are also the majority of healthcare workers on the frontline and it is overwhelmingly women who will be at risk from an abusive partner if they are having to self-isolate at home.  

“This crisis will have long-term adverse consequences for women's lives and gender equality.  Government must ensure they are focusing on women."

And Liberal Democrat equalities spokesperson Christine Jardine said: "We are in extraordinary times and it is right the government does what it can to reduce the financial burden on companies. 

"However, this blanket decision to let off businesses - bearing in mind this only applies to businesses with over 250 employees - suggests that the government is not taking gender pay gap reporting seriously and sets a worrying precedent for the future.

"A better option would have been to maintain the obligation to report, but give businesses the opportunity to state any extenuating circumstances preventing them from doing so. 

“Alternatively government could look at extending this year's deadline for submissions."

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