The BBC’s annual report for 2016/17 has revealed that around two-thirds of its on-air talent earning more than £150K are male. The highest paid male celebrity earned between £2.2m and £2.25m last year, while the highest paid female earned between £460K and £500K.
The BBC revelations however, reflect a wider concern. The gender pay gap has been around for a long time and in 2016 it was around 18%.
As far back as 1970 legislation was being prepared to address the disparity in pay between men and women. The Equal Pay Act of that year provided the right for employees to bring claims in the employment tribunal where they alleged that they were being paid less than a person of the opposite sex in circumstances where they were doing the same or broadly similar work or work of equal value. The law provides a defence to an equal pay claim if an employer can point to a genuine material factor, which does not discriminate on grounds of sex, to explain the difference in pay.
In 2017, nearly 50 years later, new legislation was introduced requiring employees with 250 or more employees to report annually on gender pay gap information relating to pay and bonuses. This information must be published on the employer’s website and uploaded onto a government website. There are, however, no statutory civil or criminal sanctions for failure to comply with the reporting obligations but there may reputational issues for employers if noncompliance is made public.
While a gender pay gap does not necessarily mean that there has been unlawful discrimination, employers should be alive to the possibility. Equal pay claims can result in some of the most complex, long-running and expensive proceedings and adverse reputational issues can not only damage sales but also the ability of companies to attract the best people. Ultimately a happy workforce is a more stable and productive workforce.