Gender pay gap publication amnesty will have little effect on employers

A two-year amnesty from investigation for firms that publish their gender pay gaps will do little to spur employers into carrying out audits voluntarily, HR professionals have warned.

Employers have told Personnel Today they are unlikely to publish the difference in earnings between male and female employees unless it was mandatory to do so, for fear the figures could damage their reputation and their ability to attract recruits.

The warning comes after the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced it would refrain from investigating employers found guilty of habouring a gender pay gap for up to two years if those organisations published the information voluntarily.

The move was outlined in an EHRC report to encourage employers to conduct equal pay audits. But Gillian Williams, head of HR at data management firm GB Group, told the magazine unless organisations were forced to publish pay gap details, they were unlikely to bother.

“The two-year amnesty is not a big enough incentive to publish,” she said. “Doing so would draw attention to something which employers have all the best intentions to resolve. If people can see the data it could affect recruitment and the morale of existing employees. Most employers will hold off until it becomes mandatory.”

Publishing pay gaps: What other HR chiefs think

Jane Hodgen, head of talent management and corporate sustainability, Tata Consulting Services: “Having their names published on a scale will incentivise them as organisations will all want to be the best. The best way to get change is to get employers to compete with their peers.”

Manjit Sandhu, head of HR, New Forest District Council: “I think the two years is helpful as it provides some time to make changes. Employers will take the opportunity to do that.”

Brad Skinner, head of HR at Barclays bank, added employers would likely weigh up the risk of being investigated by the EHRC against the damage publishing the data could do to companies.

He said: “If the EHRC picks off random companies the odds of being investigated will be small, and employers will weigh up their chances of being investigated. The incentive versus the odds of being investigated don’t quite balance out.”

Firms were also concerned that even under the EHRC proposals, they could still face employment tribunal claims over their pay data.

Trevor Phillips, EHRC chairman, said: “If an employer doesn’t look at their own gender pay gap, how do they address it? By understanding that they have a gender pay gap problem they can start to take steps to address it.”

A clause in the Equality Bill could make it mandatory for organisations to publish their gender pay gap by 2013.

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