Gender pay gap reporting extension could give firms wrong message

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) will be giving UK firms a six-month grace period if they do not report their gender pay gap data by 30 March (public sector) or 4 April (private) 2021.

The reporting suspension was introduced in March 2020 to alleviate the administrative burden on businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. The EHRC will now not begin legal enforcement for failure to report until 5 October 2021.

EHRC chair Baroness Kishwer Falkner said that the extension strikes the right balance between supporting businesses and maintaining important progress. However, she urged all businesses to keep to the original deadline where possible.

She said: “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.”

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The move has, however, been criticised for potentially sending the wrong message to employers. Speaking to HR magazine Wanda Wyporska, executive director at The Equality Trust, which campaigns against economic and social inequality, said: "At a time when women are disproportionately suffering far worse financially, more likely to be furloughed or made redundant, then it's really the last straw that companies are not being held to reporting on their gender pay and bonus gaps.

“This is vital information that is needed to ensure that women are at the forefront of the recovery, rather than an afterthought. The regulations should not have been suspended in the first place."

Though the CIPD welcomed the move, senior resourcing and inclusion adviser Claire McCartney shared concerns that the extension could signal to employers that reporting can go on the backburner.

She said: “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.

"The earlier that employers report their findings, the better position they will be in to take action and make meaningful change.”

Anecdotally, the CIPD said many of its members have said they are still confident about meeting the April deadline. 

McCartney added it would also be critical this year for firms to back up their reporting with an action plan to improve equality.

“The pandemic will have had an impact on their figures,” she said.

“They will need to understand and explain this, and set out how they plan to improve gender equality and tackle pay gaps where they exist.”