Menopause and the Equality Act 2010

Published: August 16th, 2022

7 min read

In July 2022, the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) published their report titled 'Menopause and the workplace'. The report emphasises the important topic of menopause, how it affects those who suffer from its symptoms and the impact this has on the workplace. With 4.5 million women aged 50-64 currently in employment, research shows that women experiencing at least one problematic menopausal symptom are 43% more likely to have left their jobs by the age of 55. These findings come after the report indicates that employers' lack of support for menopausal symptoms are 'pushing highly skilled and experienced' women out of work, with the UK currently 'hemorrhaging talent'.

Whilst not advocating for mandatory menopause policies, the WEC has noted that there is much that employers can do, drawing upon the risk of potential discrimination claims and reputational damage if nothing is done.

Some MP's have also voiced their support that menopause should be a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. The WEC chair, Caroline Nokes MP has said: "The omission of menopause as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 is no longer tenable, given that 51% of the population will experience menopause. We were shocked to hear that many women must demonstrate their menopausal symptoms amounting to a disability in order to get redress. Our Committee is calling on the Government to make menopause a protected characteristic in its own right"

Currently, there is no legislation that confers protection specifically for the menopause. Rather at present, claims relating to the menopause must be 'shoehorned' into one of the existing protected characteristics of age, sex and/or disability. For example, the Employment Appeal Tribunal held in Rooney v Leicester City Council, decided in October 2021 that the Tribunal had erred in deciding that the claimant, who had debilitating menopausal symptoms, was not disabled. The case demonstrates that it can be difficult for employees going through the menopause to establish that their symptoms amount to a disability for the purposes of the legislation. The case also highlights that more can, and should, be done to demonstrate awareness of this topic and serves as a reminder that we must better understand our concept of the menopause and its effects.

In recent years there has been a steady increase in the number of Employment Tribunal claims referencing issues concerning menopause as the reason for their grievance. Therefore, it is vital for employers to recognise this and implement steps to ensure that they are supporting staff who are experiencing the menopause as best they can.

What can employers do?

Taking steps to support employees through every stage of the menopause is key to fostering a culture where staff feel confident in discussing how they are feeling with respect to the menopause and that matters will be dealt with sensitively, in confidence, and with dignity. Examples include:

  • Providing training and guidance all managers to ensure they understand how to talk and encourage staff to raise any menopause concerns, making clear to managers that all people affected by the menopause are affected in different ways
  • Ensuring health and safety checks and risk assessments are carried out, and ensuring the workplace is a suitable place to work for those suffering with menopause symptoms, for example, water coolers, desk fans and ample toilet facilities
  • Developing a specific menopause policy, which is shared and regularly reviewed
  • Regularly reviewing health, safety, diversity and inclusion and wellbeing, and looking at any workplace adjustments including performance management flexible working, absence management, and sickness reporting procedures
  • Appointing a menopause or wellbeing champion, to act as a point of contact if employees want advice or someone to talk to, who is not their manager

Looking to the future

It appears unlikely that the WEC's calls for legislative reform will be answered, at least in the foreseeable future, with the government confirming it does not intend to make any changes to the Equality Act 2010. Nevertheless in the meantime, the government has confirmed they intend to take some steps to support employers and employees, including:

  • Developing methodology to quantity the cost of menopause on the individual, businesses and the UK economy
  • Nominating an Ambassador to work on behalf of Government to represent the interests of those experiencing menopause transition
  • Providing additional support to employers for women's reproductive health issues within the workplace, including menopause, through the Health and Wellbeing Fund

For all stages of menopause transition to be referenced as a priority issue in Government's public policy agenda on work, diversity and inclusion

Women aged 50-64 make up the fastest growing demographic in the UK, accounting for almost 70% of working women. If your organisation is not already considering steps to support and retain staff affected by the menopause, then you are encouraged to make it a priority. By making it a priority, you are able to minimise the risk of: losing their valuable experience and talent, claims being made, retention issues and negative impacts on gender and diversity, particularly at executive levels.

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