It's the centenary of British women receiving the right to vote and a new report produced by the Fawcett Society (a charity named after one of the Suffragettes, Millicent Fawcett) has reviewed sex discrimination laws in the UK and questioned whether they are fit for purpose.
The Society made a number of recommendations for improving the law, including within the workplace, as follows:
The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill has been introduced to Parliament with the aim of incorporating EU law into UK law. However, 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 Fawcett Society recommended limiting the use of Ministerial powers conferred by the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill so that the powers cannot be used to substantively amend employment law in the UK, which would disproportionately impact on women workers. In particular, it asked for the Equality legislation to be incorporated as primary legislation, similar to the Human Rights Act 1998.
Gender Pay Gap
The gender pay gap between men and women is noted as being 'stubbornly slow in closing'.
On 4 April 2018 all organisations employing over 250 people will have to report data on their gender pay gap for the first time. Although, the requirement is a step forward, the Report notes proper enforcement is essential for the regulations to have an impact. The Report recommended civil penalties for non-compliance with gender pay gap reporting to be introduced and to progressively lower the threshold for reporting to workplaces with over 50 employees.
The released gender pay gap reports may not attract any civil penalties but they are having a huge reputational impact. The BBC have seen Carrie Gracie resign over the difference in pay and a number of top male presenters have agreed to a pay cut, showing the impact of publicly disclosing such reports. Tesco is now facing equal pay claims, so we will continue to expect to see ongoing litigation and interest in relation to pay issues.
Family friendly rights
The review also highlights another problem area, namely that an estimated 54,000 pregnant women and working mothers are made redundant or are pressured to leave their jobs each year. They attribute this to the additional protection from dismissal linked to maternity discrimination ending on the last day of maternity leave and recommended to extend the protection to cover the first six months after a mother returns to work.
With the Government's recent announcement of the response to the Taylor review, in which it commits to review the legislation relating to protection against redundancy, this may be an area of development in the coming months.
The Report commends the introduction of Shared Parental Leave as an important step forward, but noted that the take-up appears to be low as a number of incentives and defaults preserve the status quo where women undertake the majority of unpaid care. A comprehensive review of parental leave policy was recommended to ensure that it is structured to presume equal responsibility for the care of children. In addition, paternity leave should be extended to six weeks, paid at 90% of earnings, to be taken at any time in the first year after the birth.
The Report noted research from TUC and Everyday Sexism Project which found that 52% of women have experienced sexual harassment in some form, and that 80% did not report it to their employer. The Equality Act 2010 used to provide some protection to employees who suffered sexual harassment from third parties but this was repealed in 2013. The Report recommended the protection is reintroduced and amended so that it requires only a single incident of harassment.
The Report considered other topics such as public sector equality duty, access to justice, violence against women and equality in Northern Ireland.
With the current focus on sex discrimination issues, it will be interesting to see if the Government will review this Report and consider any of the recommendations proposed.
You can read the full report here.
Get in touch
If you have any questions about the report and any of the employer obligations, please do not hesitate to get in touch.