Managing the fallout of gender pay gap reports

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The deadlines for employers in both the public and private sectors to publish gender pay gap information have passed

All employers with 250 or more staff must publish information about their mean and median gender and bonus pay gaps, the percentage of male and female staff who received a bonus, and the percentage of men and women in each quartile of their workforce. Public sector employers have additional obligations to publish specific and measurable equality objectives.

All of this data must be made publicly accessible. There has already been a significant amount of negative media attention placed on both employers who have, and those who haven't complied. Some reports suggest that female staff have been questioning why their male colleagues appear to be receiving higher basic pay or bonuses than they are.

There is lots of guidance about how to compile a gender pay gap report, but not much has been said about staff communication and the steps employers can take to manage the human fallout of gender pay gap reporting. HR has a vital role to play in reducing the negative impact a gender pay gap report can have on staff relations and morale.

Be honest with employees

If you reported a large gender pay gap, or a large bonus gap, give a full and frank explanation of the underlying causes. More importantly, explain to staff how you intend to tackle those underlying causes and reduce your gender pay gap over time.

Consider how you can get workers involved in forming an action plan. For example, if you identify lack of female promotion to the senior ranks as a contributing cause of the gender pay gap, speak to people at the appropriate level to see if they can identify any barriers to them applying for promotions. You can only start to deal with the problem once you understand it.

Explain the difference between a gender pay gap and equal pay

A common misconception is that a large gender pay gap necessarily means that male and female employees are paid unequally. But the gender pay gap and equal pay are two entirely different things. Many organisations will have a gender pay gap despite paying male and female employees equally for the same jobs. Explaining the difference to your workforce can go a long way to reassuring female employees that they are not paid less than their male colleagues for the same work.

Don’t try to restrict pay discussions

A little-known legal provision (section 77 of the Equality Act 2010) means that pay secrecy clauses in employment contracts are unenforceable, and employers cannot prevent workers from discussing their pay with current or former colleagues in an attempt to find out if they are being paid equally. It’s also unlawful to victimise a staff member for taking part in pay discussions. Therefore you should be very wary of trying to restrict or discourage people from discussing pay among themselves.

Deal with any grievances promptly and appropriately

You may receive grievances from employees who consider it likely that they are not receiving equal pay. Any such complaints should be dealt with promptly and appropriately in accordance with your grievance procedure and equal opportunities policy. An employer cannot legally pay a man more than a woman for doing equal work, unless the pay differential is due to a material factor that is not discriminatory on the grounds of sex (e.g. length of service, level of experience, unsociable hours of work, or geographical pay variations).

Emma Ahmed is a professional support lawyer at Hill Dickinson

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