Almost 500 UK companies that have failed to disclose details of their gender pay gaps will face legal action.
Companies that did not comply with the new requirement to report pay gap details between their male and female staff are breaking the law, the Equality and Human Rights Commission said late on Wednesday.
All companies and charities with more than 250 employees are now legally required to publish those details on their own websites as well as a dedicated government website.
Many failed to do so by an extended deadline that expired this week, the commission said in a statement.
Rebecca Hilsenrath, its chief executive, said: “Breach of these regulations is breaking the law and we’ve always been clear we will enforce with zero tolerance.
“Last month, we contacted almost 1,500 businesses to commence enforcement proceedings and as a result the number of employers facing investigation is now under 500.
“The first draft terms of reference will be issued shortly and will be made publicly available in due course as required by law.”
The deadline for companies to disclose gender pay gap details was 30 March for public service organisations and 4 April for businesses.
Non-compliant companies are now being given 28 days to comply before investigations against them are triggered and an “unlawful act notice” is issued, the watchdog said.
About 11,000 employers had published their pay details by the extended deadline, which expired on Monday 7 April.
Men in the UK earn on average 18.4% more than women, according to government data published last year.
HSBC and Virgin Atlantic had the biggest gender pay difference of companies in the UK with more than 5,000 employees, at 59% and 58% respectively, according to analysis by Reuters.
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A detailed breakdown of the figures by companies is not required, leading to criticism that the average figures could obscure or exaggerate demographic explanations for gender pay disparities.
Advocates say the new legal requirement marks a turning point for women in the workplace.