Pay questionnaires may clash with privacy laws

Employers could be at risk of breaching privacy rules when they respond to
the new equal pay questionnaires being introduced as part of the Employment Act
from Sunday.

The CIPD and the Engineering Employers Federation (EEF) are both concerned
that final guidance published by the Government last week does not address
employers’ concerns that responding to a request by an employee for information
on a colleague’s pay could break the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA).

The questionnaires give staff the right to request pay information on a
comparable worker of the opposite sex. They are voluntary, but employers that
refuse requests are likely to be penalised if taken to tribunal.

Diane Sinclair, lead adviser on public policy at the CIPD, said employers
could be within their rights to disclose pay information if they believe that
otherwise they could be vulnerable to an employment tribunal application, but
the position was far from clear.

"There are concerns over section 35.2 of the DPA which does allow
disclosure of information when questions relate to legal proceedings or
prospective legal proceedings. The employer needs to be satisfied that
questionnaire requests fall under section 35.2. We are not sure how widely this
will be interpreted," she said.

Director of employment policy for the EEF, Peter Martin, shares Sinclair’s

"The changes to the guidance have gone in the right direction, but I am
still concerned that the guidance offered to employers is not what they
need," he said.

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