• International Workplace
  • 6 February 2018

UK sex discrimination law: is it still fit for purpose?

Gender Pay Gap Reporting Regulations should be amended so that the gender pay gap is also broken down by age, disability, ethnicity, sexuality and part-time status, according to a new report from the Fawcett Society, which questions whether sex discrimination law in the UK is still fit for purpose.

More than seven years since the landmark Equality Act 2010 was introduced, the report, Sex Discrimination Law Review, discusses the impact of Brexit on equality law and its recommendations for how UK law needs to move forward.

Since the decision to leave the EU, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill has been introduced to Parliament with the stated aim of incorporating EU law into UK law so that our statute book continues to function. But, the report states, the current wording of the Bill leaves equality law, including the Equality Acts 2010 and 2006, open to significant changes without substantial parliamentary scrutiny.

The Society comments that Brexit also provides an opportunity to go beyond what is permitted by EU law in order to further gender equality:

“Women remain consistently disadvantaged in the workplace. The gender pay gap varies significantly across women’s working lives and for women with different characteristics. Its causes are complex and varied, but the gap is stubbornly slow in closing.”

By April 2018 all organisations employing over 250 people will have to report data on their gender pay gap for the first time. The new requirements are an important step forward, but, the Fawcett Society says, proper enforcement is essential if the regulations are to have impact.

Its recommendations for ensuring improved equality for women with regards to pay include:

  • Civil penalties for non-compliance with gender pay gap reporting should be introduced which could be issued without the need for extensive enforcement work in advance. The Equality and Human Rights Commission should be given the powers and resources to carry out enforcement activity which would have a more immediate impact on those who do not comply.
  • Gender Pay Gap Reporting Regulations should be amended so that the gender pay gap is also broken down by age, disability, ethnicity, sexuality and part-time status. This must be done with due consideration to privacy where low representation of groups with particular characteristics could lead to their data being identified.
  • Gender Pay Gap Reporting Regulations should be progressively amended, so that by 2020 the threshold is lowered to workplaces with over 50 employees. Employers should recognise and bargain with trade unions in the workplace and on equal pay.
  • Employment Tribunals must enforce the timetable for equal value claims. Consideration should be given to introducing a similar indicative time limit for all equal pay claims.
  • The procedures for obtaining equal pay should be reviewed and simplified and consideration given to the development of class actions to address unequal pay. Women who participate in class actions should not lose their right to pursue individual claims if they decide the class action does not best represent their interests.
  • Equal pay questionnaires should be reintroduced. The Employment Tribunal should be entitled to draw adverse conclusions from an employer’s failure to answer relevant questions.
  • Amend the Freedom of Information Act to include pay in the private sector so that the accurate information needed to bring equal pay claims is more freely available.
  • Where Employment Tribunals find cases of unequal pay or discrimination they should require a full equal pay audit as standard. These should be conducted with transparency and the data made publicly available.
  • Employment Tribunals should have the power to order equal pay audits at any stage in a case where this will be in the interest of employees or the wider workforce.
  • Mandatory equal pay audits should be required every three years. This should initially apply to employers of over 250 people. These must be conducted transparently and the data made publicly available.
  • Awards following successful equal pay claims should include pensions contributions and reflect injury to feelings.

The report goes on to present its recommendations in the fields of maternity, paternity and family friendly rights, workplace harassment and dress codes. The full report can be accessed here.