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January 25, 2023

Ask the Expert – is menopause a protected characteristic?

There has been a lot of discussion recently about menopause and how it affects women in the workplace. Recently, there has been a notable increase in the number of Employment Tribunal cases in the UK which specifically revolve around a Claimant’s menopause.

A survey conducted by the CIPD in 2019 found that 60% of women going through the menopause had been “negatively affected at work” and that close to a million women had resigned from their jobs because of the symptoms they suffered. On the back of this the Women and Equalities Committee undertook an inquiry into discrimination in the workplace relating to the menopause.

Their report concluded that the lack of support in the workplace was causing the UK to “haemorrhage talent”. It posited that whilst women are protected under the law against disability and sex discrimination this was not adequate protection for women going through the menopause. They also made the point that maternity and pregnancy discrimination is enshrined in law and not all women will experience this- in comparison to the menopause which all women will go through. It recommended that a new protected characteristic of menopause should be created.

Another recommendation made by the report was to work with a public sector employer to “develop and pilot a specific menopause leave policy”.

The government published its response to this report on 24 January 2023 and it has rejected both of these recommendations. In response to the suggestion of creating a type of menopause leave the government stated that it does not believe it is necessary. Its reasoning is that the aim of these policies is to support women remaining in the workplace and that leave may be “counterproductive to achieving this goal”.

In rejecting the proposal to make menopause a protected characteristic the government quoted Unison’s response to the inquiry. This stated that the menopause has sufficient protection from the umbrellas of age, sex, and disability discrimination. It also stated that the Equality Act was a very important piece of legislation and that any changes would need to be very carefully considered.

What does this all mean for employers? Whilst there are unlikely to be any legal changes in this area any time soon employers must be aware of their existing obligations under discrimination law. Employers should consider training sessions on the subject of menopause and make sure that managers are equipped to deal with these situations when they arise. Any requests for reasonable adjustments or flexible working should be seriously considered.

Menopause policies are quite on trend at the moment but employers need to be aware that a policy is not a sticking plaster. All employees and managers need to be aware of the contents of any such policy and actually implement them.

If you have any questions on any of the issues mentioned in the above article, please contact Natalia Milne

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