Equal pay law should be radically reformed to prevent costly tribunal cases and encourage employers to take a proactive approach to the gender pay gap, according to the equalities body.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has today claimed the 1975 Equal Pay Act is "no longer fit for purpose" as it relies too heavily on individual women to tackle inequality in their pay through the tribunal system rather than urging employers to prevent problems in the first place.
The tribunal system has seen an almost 500% rise in equal pay claims over the past four years.
Nicola Brewer, chair of the EHRC, said: "The 1975 Equal Pay Act is no longer fit for purpose. We need to look afresh at what modern equal pay legislation should look like."
The Equality Bill is due to be published next month, which aims to increase diversity in the workplace through plans such as making employers that bid for government contracts publish equality statistics.
But, Brewer said: "Moving away from a system that places the burden solely on the 'victim' to seek redress to one where employers take a proactive approach will take time."
However, the EHRC has long said that equal pay audits should not become mandatory and is standing by that position. An EHRC spokeswoman told Personnel Today that to force firms to carry out equal pay reviews would only lead to a "flood of litigation claims" when the tribunal system is already overwhelmed.
|Pinsent Masons employment lawyer Tom Potbury says businesses need to weigh up the pros and cons of undertaking pay audits on a voluntary basis.|
Instead, the EHRC believes the law should be changed to allow employers a period of amnesty so that claims can be dealt with away from the costly and lengthy tribunal process.
She added: "Amnesty from claims would require a change in the law. But as employers, unions and legal experts don't agree as to what would work, these questions need to be brought to a negotiating table, and that's why the EHRC is calling for a review."