The report for 2019-2020 was due to be submitted by 30 March 2020 for public sector bodies and by 4 April 2020 for private sector employers. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Government Equalities Office and the Equality and Human Rights Commission confirmed on 24 March that the deadlines for reporting were suspended for this year. This was in recognition of the fact that employers are facing unprecedented uncertainty and pressure due to the coronavirus situation. This means that employers were not required to report their data by the deadline, although the Government Equalities Office will continue to provide support to employers who choose to voluntarily report.
According to Business in the Community, since this requirement was suspended only 50% of employers who would normally have to publish this information have actually done so. As a result, concern has been raised in some quarters not only for the consequences to the economy but also for the effect this may have upon efforts to address the gender pay gap. Concerns have already been raised about the disproportionate impact that the pandemic has had on women, with a study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the University College London Institute of Education reporting that women in England are 23% more likely than men to have lost their job or been furloughed. If employers who normally publish this information have not done so, they must be careful not to send a message that efforts to concentrate on the difficulties presented by the pandemic are at the expense of recognising and addressing any gender based inequality in the workplace.
A failure to report could have implications not only in terms of feelings and attitudes amongst employees, but also in terms of their public relations with customers, clients and other stakeholders. How then should employers deal with the issues raised by the pandemic but continue to show a commitment to equality in the workplace? The Government Equalities Office has issued guidance on actions employers can take to reduce the gender pay gap and promote gender equality in the workplace. Examples include setting specific targets to achieve within certain timeframes, improving workplace flexibility, and offering flexible working options. In particular, in light of the changes made to working patterns during the pandemic, many employers will be allowing workers to work flexibly and actively encouraging such an approach.
Despite the absence of a mandatory reporting requirement this year, employers should not let their eye be taken off the ball in this area. When time permits, employers should take the time to review their gender pay gap information, measure their figures against those of last year, and ideally publish this information on a voluntary basis. Not only will this demonstrate to employees and clients that the employer is committed to reviewing its gender pay gap (notwithstanding the suspension of the rules on reporting), but if progress is not made then it remains an issue for all to see when mandatory figures are required next year.