The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted economies across the globe, which has led to legislative action to combat it.
One such development might have an effect on pay equity in the United Kingdom, as it recently announced it is suspending the need for organizations to report on the gender pay gap in their workforce. The government assured, however, that this would not derail attempts to pay men and women fairly. Since 2017, the British government has required employers with more than 250 employees to submit gender pay gap figures every year in a bid to reduce the 17.9% average difference in pay between men and women, government data shows.
British authorities said they would not enforce court orders or fines for this reporting year due to “unprecedented uncertainty and pressure” faced by companies struggling to cope with lockdown measures. More than 4,000 firms published their results ahead of the usual April 4 cutoff date but that accounts for less than half the figure that has historically been reported.
“The decision to postpone the reporting, while understandable, should not be taken by businesses as a sign that gender pay equity is no longer important, or that these issues should be placed on the back burner,” said Joe Schmitt, labor and employment attorney at Nilan Johnson Lewis. “Gender pay equity initiatives are here to stay, and companies need to make this a priority by conducting their own analyses and taking steps to address any inequities.”
Some advocates of the pay gap reporting abroad are concerned that the suspension of reporting could become permanent.
“I’m really worried we’re going to step backwards,” Vicky Pryce, former joint head of the U.K. Government Economic Service, told Bloomberg. “Pay gap reporting highlighted a problem that needs to be addressed, but I suspect it’s all going to be forgotten for a while. Companies are just going to try to survive.”
Schmitt said that companies should be cautious to avoid taking steps to address COVID-19 that would worsen their pay inequities. An example of one of these situations, Schmitt said, are ad hoc decisions to pay bonuses, raise salaries, or lessen or eliminate pay cuts for employees who complain, but not for those who remain silent.
“Social science research suggests that men are more likely to complain about compensation, and such ad hoc decision-making can create or increase pay gaps,” Schmitt said. “Companies should check whether their actions will have an adverse impact on protected groups, particularly in different times such as the present.”
About the Author
Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.