That's the question, the Women and Equalities Committee are considering as part of its inquiry into how menopausal women are treated at work and what steps need to be taken to protect them.
Its chair, Caroline Nokes said the inquiry had heard from women who have suffered discrimination in the workplace and have been forced to use disability legislation to bring claims against their employers. [In fact, women have also cited sex and age discrimination in the context of bringing claims about their treatment during the menopause as we reported here.]
Her committee have been told that existing laws aren't clear enough and that adding menopause as a protected characteristic may be necessary.
“If the current legislation is working then great, but if it’s not working, and we’ve made maternity a protected characteristic, then do we need to look at making the menopause a protected characteristic? The jury’s still very much still out on that [but] I really don’t rule it out.”
A recent survey found that three in five menopausal women were negatively affected at work and that almost 900,000 women in the UK left their jobs because of menopausal symptoms. They are often leaving work at the peak of their experience.
The Women and Equalities Committee are seeking views to help inform the development of a Women’s Health Strategy. This inquiry examines the extent of discrimination faced by menopausal people in the workplace, and investigates how government policy and workplace practices can better support those experiencing menopause.
It's hearing evidence until Friday 17 September.
Even if the committee does recommend that menopause be added as a protected characteristic, the government would be free to reject their proposals.
We can help
Our partner, Jenny Arrowsmith regularly helps organisations support menopausal women. Please get in touch if you'd like details of the training she can offer or need specific advice on this issue.
We've also developed a precedent menopause policy to help organisations talk openly about this issue and to develop good practice around those conversations. Our IMhr plus clients can access it via the portal and we're offering it free of charge to any organisation that would like it. Please contact Gareth Finney if you'd like a copy.
“One of the key messages coming through is that people don’t feel that they’ve got adequate recourse to tribunals, because they think the legislation isn’t clear enough,” Nokes said. “We are hearing too many stories of people finding the most convenient mechanism to bring a claim for disability discrimination – the menopause isn’t a disability." - Caroline Nokes