The government has decided against making menopause a protected characteristic

Despite a valiant campaign spearheaded by the chair of the women and equalities committee, the government has decided against making the menopause a standalone protected characteristic under the Equality Act.

The government has decided against making menopause a protected characteristic

The decision could be seen as a blow to many who are suffering from menopause symptoms. Menopausal women are the fastest growing demographic in the workforce with 8 out of 10 currently in full or part-time employment. 

 A recent surveys found that 1 in 3 women had missed work due to menopause symptoms but only one in ten had asked for workplace adjustments. Despite this nearly 90% of the same group have felt that their symptoms have had an impact on their working life. 

Those who took the survey said that the main reason that they didn’t ask for help was because they were “worried about the reaction of others” or they didn’t know who to contact within their organisations.

Although the government has decided not to introduce menopause as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, employers should keep in mind that treating an employee less favourably due to this health condition could still amount to unlawful sex, age and disability discrimination.

The government will continue to consult the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and ACAS, to assess whether improvements can be made to the current guidance. This will hopefully increase awareness and understanding of the law and employers’ responsibilities should they have an employee affected by the menopause such as the legal requirement to make reasonable adjustments.

Affected individuals are still protected under existing legislation which prohibits less favourable treatment on the grounds of age, sex and disability. 

There was a 44% increase in the number of employment tribunals involving menopaused between 2020 and 2021.

We’ve already seen from these past judgements that employees can successfully claim unlawful discrimination and harassment on each of these grounds, due to them suffering with menopausal symptoms. 

As such, it’s important employers consider each staff member on an individual basis and implement tailored reasonable adjustments to support them during this time. 

While flexible working may improve the work life of one staff member, another may simply like to move to a cooler part of the office to help offset their symptoms.

Gender specific health concerns, like the menopause, can be difficult for employees to talk about, with many reporting feelings of embarrassment and discomfort about having related discussions, in addition to the associated physical and emotional symptoms. 

Often the issues stem from ignorance about what the menopause is and how it effects people in their daily lives. As such, it is important that employers are adequately trained in first holding these conversations before they can consider providing effective support to affected individuals. 

Signing the Menopause Workplace pledge is a great first step in showing staff that you recognise the issues that menopause can cause in women’s day to day lives. Not only that but you are an organisation that works to proactively support your staff throughout every stage of their working lives.

Robust internal policies can further highlight this and act as a guide to the steps that employees should take should they need further support.

Businesses that work to support staff will often reap the rewards. Happy and supported staff stay in jobs longer and have higher levels of motivation and productivity. Managers will see a return of investment from internal training and development exercises that creates better channels of communication across the whole of their organisation.

Kate Palmer
Kate Palmer

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