Gender pay gap reports for 2021: the Covid impact

The gender pay gap, the difference in the average earnings between men and women, has been a major cause for concern for many decades. Usually felt by women, and whilst it is showing signs of closing, the gap remains a symbol of inequality between the sexes. This is why employers are legally required, by the Equality Act 2010, to provide equal pay to both men and women if the work they do is the same or broadly similar; thus paying them a different rate because of their gender became unlawful.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Government Equalities Office (GEO) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) suspended enforcement of the gender pay gap deadlines for 2019/20, meaning there was no expectation on employers to report their data taken from the snapshot date of 31 March 2019 for public sector employers or 5 April 2019 for private sector. Ordinarily, this would have been required by 30 March 2020 (public sector) and 4 April 2020 (private sector. The suspension remains in place; employers are not expected to report on this data now or in the future.

The suspension does not cover reporting on data from the 2020 snapshot date. Data collected on salaries on 31 March 2020 for the public sector and 5 April 2020 for the private sector must be reported on but delivered according to an adjusted schedule.

The deadline for reporting in 2021 has been moved from 30 March 2021 (public sector) and 4 April 2021 (private sector) to 5 October 2021 for all affected employers. This means that employers have had an additional six months to report their data from the 2020 snapshot date before the Government’s enforcement programme would begin. Employers are, however, encouraged to submit their data before October where possible.

Will the pandemic affect data?

With the ‘snapshot’ date in the private sector being 5 April 2020, questions have been raised about the practical impact of Covid-19 on the workforce; this some weeks after the first national lockdown was implemented and the Job Retention Scheme had first been rolled out UK-wide.

Normal rules on producing a report dictate that employees do not need to be included in the ‘reporting pool’ if they were not on full pay on the ‘snapshot’ date. This means that any member of staff who was furloughed and did not have their pay topped up to 100%, can be discounted from the report. The knock-on effect of this may see the reporting pool significantly reduced, meaning that the results it produces may therefore show an increase, or decrease, in the gap, creating figures not representative of reality.

With this in mind, it is crucial that any report produced by employers is combined with a detailed explanation of the figures – if there is a substantial change, employers should explain that this results from the number of staff on furlough and/or the redundancies they have had to make.

Another key issue to bear in mind is the employee threshold included to set the scope of application. Employers with at least 250 members of staff have to produce a report. Employers may have reduced their staffing numbers throughout 2020 and may therefore believe that they are no longer required to produce a report. However, it should be noted that the key date is 5 April 2020. If on that date employers met the criteria to produce a report, they should do so. Again, a staffing reduction may have an impact on the report, so this should also be clearly explained.

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