As we approach World Menopause Day on 18th October we reflect on the state of play in relation to employment law protection for those suffering debilitating symptoms of the menopause in the workplace.
Whilst menopause is discussed more openly and some employers are actively engaging in raising awareness as part of their wellbeing initiatives, regrettably there remains an unacceptable problem in the workplace. Research shows that a lack of employer support is leading to highly skilled and experienced women leaving their jobs, with knock on effects on the gender pay gap and number of women in senior roles. Women experiencing just one problematic menopausal symptom are seen to be 43% more likely to have left their jobs by the age of 55 than those experiencing no severe symptoms. BUPA have also published findings that 900,000 women experiencing menopause have left work. But with 4.5 million women aged 50-64 currently in employment, what is being done to protect those experiencing symptoms of the menopause being adversely impacted at work?
Where are we right now?
At the moment, no legislation specifically refers to menopause. Claims of detrimental treatment by reason of menopause have had to be shoehorned into existing protection under the Equality Act, under three of the already protected characteristics of age, sex and disability discrimination. The Health and Safety at Work Act also provides for safe working conditions. This protection could extend to staff experiencing symptoms of menopause whose health concerns are not being appropriately managed by their employer. However such protection is increasingly considered unsatisfactory.
Over the past few years there has been an increase in the number of employment tribunal claims where menopause is noted as the main reason for the grievance, with a 44% increase in 2021. Faced with such clear evidence of the impact of menopause on the employment relationship many organisations and legal practitioners are calling for reform.
Call for change
In July 2022 MPs in the cross-party Women and Equalities Committee published a report calling for the Government to take action by amending the Equality Act to introduce menopause as its own protected characteristic and to include a duty for employers to provide reasonable adjustments for menopausal employees. The report called on the UK government to appoint a Menopause Ambassador to champion good practice, produce model menopause policies and trial specific menopause leave with a large public sector employer. The model policies would include as a minimum: how to request reasonable adjustments and other support, advice on flexible working, sick leave for menopause symptoms, and provisions for education, training and building a supportive culture.
The response so far
To date the government has disappointingly shown no intention of amending the Equality Act 2010 to add menopause as a protected characteristic and has no plans to implement provisions relating to combined discrimination. It has, however, appeasingly appointed a Women’s Health Ambassador for England who will sit on a newly established UK Menopause Taskforce. The objective of this taskforce is billed as assisting with improving conditions for those experiencing menopause in the workplace. It will work with employer groups and other stakeholders to consider what more can be done to improve support and tackle taboos and stigmas in the workplace, including launching an employer-led and government-backed campaign.
Government officials, in consultation with the EHRC and ACAS, are also assessing whether existing guidance on menopause can be improved to increase employer and employee understanding of the law. In July, the Department of Health and Social Care also published the Women’s Health Strategy for England, which sets out a ten-year action plan and key objectives with aims for people experiencing perimenopause and menopause to feel supported to remain in the workplace and for employers to be well-equipped to support their workforce during the menopause, including by introducing workplace menopause policies.
What happens in the future?
It is certainly encouraging that a considerable investment of time and resources is being made into tackling the adverse implications of menopause in the workplace. Some may consider that such investment is sufficient to address any detriment that may be causing women to leave their roles. We have to hope that this is the case as it appears that we have a long way to go before any changes are made to legislation that explicity provides protection in relation to the menopause.
How can Moore Barlow help
Should you need advice on how to support staff through the menopause or want us to assist in creating a Menopause Policy, contact Moore Barlow’s expert employment lawyers today.
We are also able to help if you think you have been unfairly discriminated against due to the menopause.