Extra protection for menopause rejected
The Women and Equalities Committee’s review into ‘menopause and the workplace’ identified a number of key recommendations to better support people affected by menopause at work. These were presented to parliament with the hope they would be accepted and implemented, to enhance the protections afforded to affected workers. However, in the government’s response published on 24 January 2023, all substantial measures were rejected.
The Women and Equalities Committee’s main recommendations can be summarised into three main categories: first, it wanted to introduce menopause as standalone protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010; it encouraged government to trial menopause leave in a large public sector organisation; and, it recommended that s14 of the Equality Act 2010 be enacted, to enable workers to raise a discrimination claim if they had been treated less favourably due to a combination of two protected characteristics (for example, their age AND sex combined, or, race AND religion combined) – this would have been known as a dual discrimination claim.
In its response, the government set out the reasons why none of these measures could be accepted. Under the rejection of menopause being a standalone protected characteristic, it stated that there is already sufficient protection for those affected by menopause under the protected characteristics of age, sex and disability. It highlighted that if it did make menopause a protected characteristic, it could unintentionally discriminate against men with long-term health conditions, or reduce existing protections. It also said that any changes o the Equality Act 2010 would be a major undertaking that needs to be discussed and approved properly, in line with normal parliamentary processes to change regulations; this couldn’t happen for some years.
When questioned about trialling menopause leave, the government stated that its main aim is to support affected staff to remain in the workplace, so introducing leave would be counterproductive. Instead, it confirmed that it will ensure employers are well equipped to help their teams, through more guidance and resources and increased awareness.
Finally, in its response to the recommendation of enacting s14 of the Equality Act 2010, to enable dual discrimination claims, the government highlighted that the Committee focused entirely on the dual characteristics of age and sex, but didn’t consider any other combinations (e.g. disability and religion etc), so didn’t give an accurate representation about how it would work. It further stated that enacting s14 would place a significant additional burden on employers and service providers, so confirmed it would not be accepted.
This being said, the government did accept some recommendations and outlined other ways it would support workers going through menopause. It confirmed plans to amend flexible working rules, to allow employees to request flexible working from day-one of employment (currently need 26 weeks’ service); make two requests per year (currently can only make one); and remove the requirement for employees to say what impact their request will have on the business. It’s hoped this will support those affected by menopause to have better access to flexible working arrangements.
It will also appoint a Menopause Employment Champion “in due course” to focus on matters specifically affecting employers, to ensure they are engaged and supported going forward. Furthermore, it will continue to work with experts, to publish guidance and raise awareness, as well as provide better signposting for employees on how to access help and resources.
We have produced a menopause policy document which you can download here. The purpose of which is to assist with creating an open and honest workplace where managers and employees can discuss any issues associated with the menopause. It will also help to ensure the necessary support is known and offered to employees when needed.