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The Government's Women and Equality Unit's guidance for employers on how to respond to requests for the equal pay questionnaire.
Purpose of the questionnaire
The equal pay questionnaire, which came into force on 6 April 2003, is intended to help individuals who believe they may not have received equal pay to request key information from their employers to establish whether this is the case and, if so, the reasons why.
The information should help to establish key facts early on and make it easier to resolve any disputes in the workplace. If the individual decides to take a case to an employment tribunal, the information should enable the complaint to be presented in the most effective way and the proceedings should be that much simpler because the matters in dispute have been identified in advance.
The focus of the questionnaire is on establishing whether an individual is receiving less pay and whether the employer agrees that the people being compared are doing equal work. In the questionnaire the term "equal work" is used to describe work that is the same or broadly similar (known as "like work"); work that has been rated as equivalent under a job evaluation study; or work of equal value.
The questionnaire includes:
a statement of why the individual thinks they are not receiving equal pay, followed by a statement of who they believe their comparators are;
factual questions to ascertain whether they are receiving less pay than their comparator and, if so, the reasons why;
a question on whether the employer agrees that the people being compared are doing equal work or work of equal value; and space for their own questions.
The questionnaire follows the general format of the Sex Discrimination Act Questionnaire (SD74).
The questionnaire includes an eight week time limit for employers to respond, with the tribunal being able to draw inferences if it was not returned within that time unless the respondent specifies a good reason.
The guidance on completing the form is set out alongside the questions. Further advice is provided at the end of the document.
The questionnaire contains a small number of standard questions. These are: whether the complainant has received less pay than their comparator (s) and, if so, why; and a question on whether the employer agrees that the people being compared are doing equal work or work of equal value.
Complainant's own questions
As with the Sex Discrimination Act questionnaire, space has been provided for the complainant's own questions. The guidance alongside gives examples of questions a complainant may want to consider asking.
How does the questionnaire work in practice?
The questionnaire operates in substantially the same way as the other discrimination questionnaires (sex, race, disability). This means that employers are not under a statutory obligation to provide answers to the questionnaire but an employment tribunal is entitled to draw inferences from a deliberate refusal to answer or from an evasive or equivocal reply. The equal pay questionnaire includes an eight week time limit for employers to respond.
Under Section 7B of the Equal Pay Act 1970 a person is entitled to write to his or her employer asking for information that will help establish whether he or she has received equal pay and, if not, what the reasons are.
The equal pay questionnaire has been devised so that the complainant can send questions to the respondent. The matching reply form gives the respondent an opportunity to say whether they agree with the complainant and if not, they can set out the reasons why. Although questions and replies can be conducted by letter, the use of the questionnaire will help ensure that relevant questions are asked.
What if the employer is asked to disclose confidential information?
Employers are expected to answer the questionnaire as fully as possible. However sometimes they may be asked to provide information that is confidential to another person. For example, the complainant might ask for exact details of a colleague's pay package or appraisal review. If the information is confidential, and that colleague does not want it to be disclosed, the employer will need to consider how much information can be given.
It is likely that in many cases employers will be able to answer detailed questions in general terms whilst still preserving the anonymity and confidence of their workers.
In some cases employers may not feel able to disclose specific information that they believe is confidential. If the case proceeds to a tribunal complaint, tribunals may order disclosure of relevant information if they believe it is in the interests of justice to do so.
The Government believes this balances the rights of people who believe they are not receiving equal pay with the rights of individual colleagues who want their pay rates to remain private.
For more information, visit the Women and Equality Unit website