Will menopause be the next protected characteristic?

This month we are expected to hear the recommendations from an ongoing Parliamentary review of menopause in the workplace. Menopause could be proposed as a standalone protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. If it is, is your business ready?

The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee recently published findings of a survey as part of its ongoing Menopause and the Workplace enquiry. It found that nearly a third of women have missed work because of menopause symptoms. The same poll found that just one in 10 women had asked for workplace adjustments with those who had not asked saying they were “worried about the reaction of others” or that they did not know who to ask.

The key findings of the survey commits the Government to research the extent of discrimination faced my menopausal people in the workplace and how policies and practices can be improved – the results and recommendations of the research are expected to be released soon.

Menopausal women are the fastest growing demographic in the workforce. It is understood that approximately 8 out of 10 menopausal women are in work, with approximately 88% of women in work stating that they have felt that it has had an impact on working life.

It is therefore important for both employers and employees to gain a clear understanding of what the menopause is and how it can affect those who are going through it.

What can employers do?

Employers can be proactive and raise awareness amongst staff to improve knowledge and understanding on the topic. This could be as simple as putting up posters in communal areas, outlining briefly what the menopause is, when it occurs and the affect it can have. In addition, employers should encourage those who require any workplace adjustments to manage their symptoms, to request these from the appropriate individual within the company – ensuring that each request is dealt with sensitively.

Why is this important?

There has recently been a sharp rise in cases being brought to the Employment Tribunal which have referenced the menopause. Raising awareness on the topic could assist employers in avoiding potential claims that could be brought to the Employment Tribunal.

Whilst there is no distinct protection within the current framework of the Equality Act 2010, potential claims in the Employment Tribunal could include age, disability or sex discrimination, or a combination of all three.

How can employers protect their business?

To minimise the risk of claims, it would be advisable for employers to provide training to all managers and staff on equality and diversity and include information on the menopause, ensuring that all employees understand how the menopause can affect an individual and what support and changes might be appropriate.  Additionally, employers should review the policies they currently have in place to ensure that they cater for those experiencing menopausal symptoms and also consider implementing a menopause policy.

Baines Explains: Menopause in the workplace

For further information on menopause in the workplace, please go and listen to the first episode of our podcast, Baines Explains, where Employment Partner, Joanne Holborn, explains how the menopause affects employees in the workplace, what employers should be aware of, and how they can support staff members who are experiencing this. You can listen here.

Need further assistance?

If you have any queries on how to manage the menopause at work, want to update your company policies or have any other Employment Law or HR queries, please do not hesitate to contact our Employment team on 01228 552600 or 01524 548494.

This alert does not provide a full statement of the law and readers are advised to take legal advice before taking any action based on the information contained herein.

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