Menopause and the workplace – where are we now?
Over the last few years, women’s health issues have gradually worked their way into the spotlight. Ending the stigma surrounding the menopause and how to support those affected at work has attracted much discussion. There have been various calls to extend protection against menopause discrimination but where are we now?
Reflecting on progress
The year started on a high for women’s health. February 2022 saw the inaugural meeting of the Menopause Taskforce take place. The Taskforce agreed that menopause in the workplace would be one of their key themes, aiming to raise awareness and encourage open conversations within workplaces.
Dame Lesley Regan was subsequently appointed as the first ever Women’s Health Ambassador in June 2022. The menopause and employment-related issues were set to play a significant part in her role, driving forward the Government’s mission to ensure that all women feel supported at work.
Meanwhile, the Women and Equalities Committee’s (“WEC”) response to their inquiry was eagerly awaited. Following evidence from BUPA that almost 900,000 women in the UK had left their jobs because of menopausal symptoms, the inquiry looked at what drove them to leave and considered the impact on the economy of haemorrhaging talent. The outcome was published on 28 July 2022, concluding that the current law is unsatisfactory for the protection of menopausal people.
Alongside a call for the Government to lead in disseminating good practice, the WEC proposed two changes to the law:
- Allowing dual discrimination claims (i.e. claims based on a combination of two protected characteristics) by enacting section 14 of the Equality Act 2010 (“EqA 2010”). Section 14 was not brought into force back in 2010 and remains in draft.
- Introducing menopause as a new protected characteristic, including a duty to provide reasonable adjustments for menopausal employees (similar to the duty that exists for disabled staff).
But just 10 days earlier, the Government had said no changes to the EqA 2010 were needed for the menopause, echoing its position from earlier in the year. A U-turn on that position is unlikely, particularly in the short-term. The Government’s view is that the protection available is ‘adequate’. The WEC report disagreed, arguing that individuals have to ‘shoehorn’ menopause claims into existing protected characteristics which they say is neither ‘desirable nor straightforward’. In the same way that a woman used to be required to compare her pregnancy to a man’s sickness, a claim for sex discrimination requires a woman experiencing menopause to compare herself to an ill man, a requirement which Cloisters describe as ‘demeaning’ given the menopause is not an illness or disorder. It is an inevitable and natural part of the life cycle experienced by 51% of the population.
In the same report, the WEC rejected the idea of introducing a legal requirement for employers to introduce menopause policies. However, many organisations already have relevant policies or practices in place. Role models cited by the WEC include fashion retailer, ASOS, which offers paid leave for ‘life events’ including the menopause and the Royal Mail with it’s ‘Let Talk Menopause’ campaign. Whilst it is becoming increasingly common for organisations to launch specific menopause policies, ensuring this is not purely a tick box exercise and is accompanied by meaningful action to raise awareness of the menopause and support available is key.
However, the direction of travel for many employers is clear. Over 1000 organisations have now signed Wellbeing of Women’s Menopause Workplace Pledge, committing to recognise the impact of menopause and actively support those who are affected.
Flexible working is just one way employers can support menopausal employees and promote an inclusive culture. Last year, the Government consulted on whether flexible working should become a day-one right, which, if enacted, would empower thousands of menopausal employees to make a statutory request for flexible working from their first day of employment and benefit from changes to their working arrangements. The current right extends only to those who have worked continuously for 26 weeks. We set out the key points from the consultation here.
While we await the Government response to the consultation, employers can promote flexible working within their organisation to support menopausal employees. Simple and cost-effective adjustments, such as working from home or changing the location of someone’s desk, are often all someone needs to continue being able to work effectively.
It remains to be seen whether the Government adopt any of the WEC’s recommendations including producing model menopause policies for employers and piloting a ‘menopause leave’ policy with a large public sector employer.
In the meantime, menopause-related tribunal claims are gaining momentum. Records show a 44% increase from 2020 to 2021, with disability discrimination most likely to be relied on. With greater awareness of the issues and empowerment of the workforce, we can expect the upward trend to continue. We set out our top tips for employers here for managing this risk.
Once a taboo subject, the menopause has now firmly entered the workplace dialogue. Policies, training, support groups, and menopause champions now feature widely across organisations.
Whilst legislative change may not be on the horizon, it is clear that a culture shift has already started. With the risk of considerable costs to businesses and the wider economy in failing to tackle the associated challenges, the menopause is now starting to be seen as a public policy issue. The Government’s messaging on this going forward will be important for setting the tone for businesses and continuing to raise awareness.