The government last week published a consultation document asking employers for their views about implementing a law requiring them to publish information about the gender pay gap.

The law, contained in section 78 of the Equality Act 2010, applies only to employers in the private and voluntary sectors with at least 250 employees. In order to find a workable approach to implementing section 78, the government is asking employers for their views on the information that should be presented.

For instance, it asks whether the information should be the difference between the average earnings of men and women as a percentage of men’s earnings; whether separate gender pay gap figures for full-time and part-time employees are more useful than a single figure; or whether it should be the difference in average earnings of men and women by grade or job type.

In addition, the government assumes that many employers will want to offer additional information that provides context, explains any gender pay gaps and sets out what remedial actions the business intends to take. The consultation document therefore asks employers for their views on whether the additional narrative information should be voluntary and not set out within the regulations or non-statutory guidance; voluntary, not set out in regulations but set out in non-statutory guidance; or set out within the regulations.

Finally, the government asks employers for their views on how often the information should be published - yearly, every two years or every three years.

The government anticipates that the regulations will be made during the first half of 2016 but in order to give businesses time to prepare for implementation, it is seeking views on a preferred implementation date. It also asks whether employers with at least 500 employees should be required to publish the information earlier than those with 250 employees.

The consultation closes on 6 September 2015.

Iain Birrell from Thompsons Solicitors commented: “Since the Secretary of State’s foreword says that ‘tackling the gender pay gap is an absolute priority’ it is disappointing that these proposals lack real ambition. The government’s own figures show that the 500 employee threshold would exclude 13 million employees in these sectors and that even the lower 250 level would exempt 99.5% of all UK private employers. In Europe similar reporting requirements are triggered at 150 employees (Austria), 35 (Finland) and 24 (Sweden). Apparently this is what an ‘absolute priority’ looks like to a government whose real agenda is undermining workers’ rights.”

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