With 2017 barely behind us, there are already signs that one of the issues likely to dominate employment law in the year ahead will be gender.
The way in which employers treat men and women at work can have distinct benefits on productivity and performance but it can also pose a risk.
Here are some of the key themes that employers should consider and be mindful of when it comes to gender:
Gender pay gap
Recent legislation provides that large employers (those with 250+ employees) will be required to publish specific data relating to their own “gender pay gap” by 4th April 2018 (and annually thereafter). The forthcoming deadline has prompted regular headlines commenting on those organisations that have already revealed their gender pay gap, most noticeably perhaps, the BBC.
Whilst the law will only apply to large businesses (estimated to be 9,000 nationally) small businesses may also wish to voluntarily consider (and potentially report) their own gender pay gap. It is possible that the regulations will be extended to smaller employers and therefore early consideration may provide an edge to those businesses faced with tackling a significant gender pay gap. Businesses with lower gender pay gaps and those committed to steps to reduce any gap may take the opportunity to voluntarily publish their data in a bid to set themselves apart from competitors and lead the way in tackling the issue of gender equality. If handled carefully a potentially negative issue may be turned into positive PR.
High profile campaigns by celebrities in the entertainment sector and social media campaigns such as “#metoo” have ensured that the issue of sexual harassment continues to be present in the public conscience. The knock on effect of such publicity is a trend of increasing numbers of complaints being made by employees regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. The BBC, for example, has seen a spike in complaints.
Sexual harassment complaints can be devastating to a business both in terms of the financial cost (legal costs and damages) and damage to reputation (which may ultimately lead to a financial loss). Employers should tackle complaints as they arise but should also consider the overall ethos and attitude of the organisation. Are there, for example, departments or teams known for “banter” which have simply been tolerated? Are there any warning signs such as a spate of resignations in a particular group of staff? Addressing problems before they escalate is often many times more effective than defending claims in an Employment Tribunal, even where there is a defence to a claim.
Disputes regarding flexible working have historically involved women who, in many cases, sought flexible working arrangements to allow them to work around their childcare commitments. There is however evidence to suggest that part time working is increasing favoured by men. Recent research by the Resolution Foundation showed a sharp shift towards part time working by men over the last 20 years. The research revealed that one in eight men now work part-time compared to one in 12 20 years ago.
With the shift towards part time work there is also a trend emerging in the rate of pay earned by those part time workers. MP Philip Davies, a member of the Government’s Women and Equalities Committee, argues that there exists a gender pay gap in respect of part time working where women working part time earn more than men working part time.
The message for employers is that any flexible working request should be considered carefully to avoid what may appear to be a straight forward issue becoming one about gender discrimination. It should also not be taken for granted that part time or flexible working is the reserve of female employees with savvy employers taking the opportunity to explore flexible working to exploit the talents of both genders.
If you are interested in any of the topics raised in this article, or for further information, please contact Maz Dannourah. Alternatively, you can call to speak to one of the team on 0115 9888 777.