The government has today rejected many of the suggestions made by the Women and Equalities Committee which would have made it easier for menopausal women to obtain the support they need to thrive at work.
This blog considers its objections to key reforms.
1. Introduce a new protected characteristic of menopause and a duty on employers to provide reasonable adjustments for menopausal women
The government has rejected these suggestions and won't be consulting on them. It says it 'agrees that it is important that women who suffer substantial and longer-term menopausal effects should be adequately protected from discrimination in the workplace' but is not satisfied that the Committee uncovered enough evidence to support this. It points to three large stakeholders (Unison, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and Business in the Community) who agreed (for different reasons) that introducing new legislation isn't necessary.
It believes that introducing a new protected characteristic could have ‘unintended consequences’ and could ‘inadvertently create new forms of discrimination’ which could ‘erode existing protections’ for men. But it provides no evidence to back this up. Why would supporting peri-menopausal and menopausal women erode legal protection for men? Menopause is something that only happens to women and it’s now accepted that it has a major and debilitating impact on many of them.
2. Develop and pilot a specific menopause leave policy with a large public sector employer
The government says that this isn't necessary. It wants employers to develop and promote good practice and points to progress being made in the civil service and NHS.
It is focusing its efforts on sharing best practice and encouraging employers to put in place support such as flexible working. It will appoint a 'menopause ambassador' to help with this.
It also says that introducing menopause leave may be 'counter-productive' to achieving this goal. That sounds a flimsy excuse to me. If the legal framework was clear and required employers to have a menopause policy, staff, and perhaps more importantly, line managers would also understood what support they are entitled to.
3. Produce model menopause policies
The government says that this isn't necessary either on the basis that there are 'numerous examples of best practice, and there is no one-size fits all approach'.
It has, however, agreed to develop 'strengthened guidance' that will give a set of clear and simple ‘principles’ that employers would be expected to apply, to support disabled people and those with long term health conditions in the work environment. Although this guidance won't specifically focus on the menopause, the government says that it might help employers understand the steps they need to take to support women with menopausal symptoms. It will be published by the Health and Safety Executive in Autumn 2022
This outcome probably doesn't come as a surprise to regular readers of this blog. The writing was already on the wall. Last year the government published its response to the policy paper on menopause and the workplace. It rejected the idea that menopause should be added as a protected characteristic and concluded that the Equality Act did protect women who were discriminated against because of their menopausal symptoms. It pointed to the fact that some women had brought successful claims to evidence that assertion.
But, as we made clear, this misses the point. The existing protections of age, disability and sex and often a poor fit and women are put off bringing claims because of the uncertainty of outcome. We're therefore surprised that Unison believe that the existing law provides suitable protection. That's not our experience.
We agree with the Chair of the select committee that this is a 'missed opportunity to protect vast numbers of talented and experienced women from leaving the workforce.'
You can read the government's full response here.
What can you do to support menopausal staff in your organisation?
We have some free resources to help you:
Here’s a link to our recent podcast which discusses the symptoms of the menopause with leading expert, Dr Rebecca Lewis, Jill Kay a professional woman suffering from menopausal symptoms and our legal expert Jenny Arrowsmith. This explores:
- How you can encourage women to talk about the menopause at work
- What symptoms women experience and what causes them
- What treatments are available to alleviate symptoms
- Why it’s important for businesses to have a menopause policy or menopause strategies in place
- What employers should do to support female employees at work.
2. Menopause guide
We also have a free menopause guide for employees which answers a number of frequently asked questions on this topic and an employer guide which provides a free menopause policy.
Our 1 minute quiz has been particularly popular and aims to dispel myths about the menopause and peri-menopause.
4. Survey results
We also commissioned a survey from YouGov to find out how many employers support peri-menopausal and menopausal women in their organisations. The results are summarised in this report which indicates that many employers are still aren't doing enough to support and retain staff during this time.
We can help
Our partner, Jenny Arrowsmith regularly helps organisations support menopausal women and is an expert in this area. Please get in touch if you'd like details of the training she can offer or need specific advice on this issue.
We have also added a new training programme on the menopause as part of our popular 'back to basics' training modules. It will help line manager understand the legal issues and feel more comfortable having conversations about the menopause.
Please get in touch with Jenny Arrowsmith if you'd like further information.
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Our fixed price employment law service
We also have a fixed price employment law service. Please contact Gordon Rodham if you'd like to find out how we can help you avoid these sorts of problems with our fixed-fee annual retainer, or flexible discounted bank of hours service.
Ministers have rejected a proposal from MPs to introduce "menopause leave" pilots in England, arguing it could be "counterproductive". It also dismissed a recommendation to make menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act. The suggestions came from the Women and Equalities Committee, which accused ministers of making "glacial progress" on menopause support. The government insisted it had an "ambitious" plan to improve help.