Gossip Girl gets rights

By: Georgina Harris

Date: 5 October 2010

One of the lesser-known changes to the law in the Equality Act is that businesses must stop using pay “gagging” clauses to keep their affairs discreet. The new law is pretty straightforward - employees who suspect a gender pay gap is afoot can no longer be disciplined for revealing, or discussing, pay with each other.

If you grumble at or discipline your staff for talking about their wages and benefits, you could be liable to claims for victimisation – possibly resulting in an employment tribunal, no joke for you or the firm. But is the threat of a court case OTT for a boss trying to ban staff gossip?

Many people think so. Writing in the Daily Mail, Duncan Bannatyne points out the original Equal Pay Act of 1970 improved lives, but chunters: “This 2010 update will not”. He maintains that this particular tweak to equality law will “damage the morale of a workplace” and suggests that: “Any difference [in pay] is immediately cast as ‘unfairness’, with the employer as the abuser and the employee the victim.”

It’s easy to understand, and sympathise with, employers’ concern for Political Correctness Gone Mad. Especially when, like Bannatyne, you believe in automatic equal rights and have been a highly successful employer for years. As staff numbers trooping to tribunals increase yearly, the creeping fear of an employee springing a trumped-up case will hardly be soothed by the news that in, another legal add-on, staff can now claim discrimination even though there may be no one to compare them against.

Yet maybe what Bannatyne calls “lunatic legislation” is not so unreasonable. These days over half the UK’s workforce are women. For full-timers, the equal pay gap is currently over 16 per cent. Women get paid 35 per cent less for part-time work.

Forty years on from the Equal Pay Act, that’s something of a surprise, and not in a good way. Yet Bannatyne hints that the new law “could be enough for some business owners to take a look at this brave new working environment and say: ‘I’m out.’”

In the UK, the most notable career legacy most women leave from their working lives is the six figures in cash they never get paid. Despite the risky life of an entrepreneur, that’s not a problem Bannatyne or his fellow business owners are liable to face.

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