The UK government has responded to the Women and Equalities Committee’s report on menopause and the workplace.
The report was first published in July 2022 and set out the impact menopause was having on women in the workplace and the UK economy at large. In particular, it argued that current employment laws do not protect women experiencing menopause and do not “offer proper redress to those who suffer menopause-related discrimination”.
The recommendations in its report included:
- Appointing a Menopause Employment Champion.
- Producing model menopause policies.
- Piloting a specific menopause leave policy.
- Consult on making menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, including the duty to provide reasonable adjustments for menopausal employees.
As part of its response, the government rejected recommendations 2, 3 and 4 above. It stated that implementing these recommendations could have “unintended consequences which may inadvertently create new forms of discrimination, for example, discrimination risks towards men suffering from long-term medical conditions, or eroding existing protections”. It also stated that menopause was already adequately covered by the three protected characteristics of age, sex, and disability discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. However, it did agree that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission should publish guidance on the legal considerations that employers need to consider when supporting employees experiencing menopause (for example, reasonable adjustments where menopausal effects amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010).
The government also did not agree on producing model menopause policies, saying it is “unnecessary at the moment” and referred to other steps taken by organisations who have developed guidance on the subject matter, including Acas’s Menopause at Work advice and other employers who have already introduced workplace policies.
The government has, however, committed to appointing a “Menopause Employment Champion” to assist with driving forward the work to be done with employers on workplace issues surrounding menopause. This person is expected to coordinate with the newly appointed Women’s Health Ambassador on issues around menopause. The Champion will also provide a six-monthly report on progress made by businesses, and this report will include examples of good practice.
While this is a disappointing response for women in England as most of the “substantive” recommendations have been rejected, it is important to remember that individuals can still bring a claim in the employment tribunal based on the protected characteristics of age, disability or sex. These protections are available for employees if they have been put at a disadvantage and treated less favourably as a result of their menopause and/or symptoms.
Under a claim of disability discrimination, an individual can also claim that their employer has failed to make “reasonable adjustments” for them in the workplace.
Options moving forward
There are also a number of steps employers can take to improve wellbeing in the workplace relating to menopause, including:
- Implementing a menopause policy. This would help to remove the stigma of menopause in the workplace by explaining what it is and how it can affect people. It should also explain what support is available to staff experiencing menopause. As part of this policy, employers could appoint a “menopause champion” who would be in charge of the policy.
- Referring to menopause in other policies, including sickness absence and flexible working.
- Providing training for staff (including managers) about menopause and its effects.
- Undertaking risk assessments (including for those staff who work from home) to ensure menopause symptoms are not worsened by the workplace and making changes where appropriate. Simple changes in the workplace could make a big difference to staff, including the temperature of the office, having cold drinking water available, or changing the material of a uniform.