Home / Menopause in the workplace – update following Women & Equalities Committee Report
17th October 2022
In July 2022, the Parliamentary Women & Equalities Committee (‘the Committee’) issued their first report in respect of Menopause in the workplace. The report highlights the lack of support that menopausal employees receive at work, despite being the fastest growing age group in the workforce. The committee’s report focuses on 3 distinct issues relating to the menopause and provides recommendations on how to deal with these important issues.
The report acknowledges that menopause is often misunderstood or dismissed by health officials, resulting in a “normalisation” of menopausal pain and symptoms. The Committee reports on the difficulties in receiving an accurate diagnosis, with 1 in 3 women visiting their GP at least 3 times before they are provided with the appropriate assistance. Recognising the lack of awareness amongst GPs, the report calls for menopause to become a mandatory aspect of continuing professional development requirements for GPs. The report suggests that by 2024, every Clinical Commissioning Group area should provide a menopause specialist service. The Committee has also called upon the Government to cut the cost of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). Finally, the Committee calls upon the Government to launch a visible public health campaign around the menopause and its symptoms, impact and treatment, in an effort to reduce the stigma associated with the condition.
The report highlights that the menopause is widely misunderstood and is poorly supported by employers and therefore not provided for in workplace cultures, policies and training. This directly impacts employees suffering with menopause symptoms, as they do not feel comfortable raising their symptoms with employers. Less than a third of menopausal employees tell colleagues about their symptoms and only 12% of respondents to the report’s survey sought workplace adjustments. It is therefore easy to appreciate that the lack of support forces menopausal employees out of their jobs and increases sickness related absences. In fact, the report states that nearly a third of their respondents missed work because of their symptoms and 14 million working days are lost every year. Oxford Economics illustrated the impact on employers in their research, suggesting that a woman earning £25,000 a year who resigns due to her symptoms will cost her employer £30,500 to replace her.
In an attempt to retain menopausal employees and prevent them from being forced out of work due to their symptoms, the report recommends that the Government produces model menopause policies that organisations can adopt and to trial specific menopause leave using a high-profile organisation. The report suggests that many solutions to improving menopause in the workplace include practical adjustments and by allowing greater flexibility in working and understanding. The Committee subsequently implores the Government to bring forward their long-awaited Employment Bill which makes the right to request flexible working a day-one right for all employees, alongside guidance to employers requesting that they grant reasonable requests, rather than forcing employees to have to justify any request for flexible working.
In terms of visibility, the Committee calls for the Government to appoint a Menopause Ambassador who would work alongside the unions, stakeholders from businesses and campaign groups in an effort to raise awareness and encourage good practice.
The Committee has identified a lack of legal protection for menopausal women at work. Menopause is not currently a protected characteristic, however employees have successfully asserted menopause-related discrimination at work based on sex, age and disability, all of which are prohibited under the Equality Act 2010. The report has challenged the current law, identifying limitations within the Equality Act, making it harder for menopausal employees to successfully seek redress by way of the Employment Tribunal. The committee has therefore called for the menopause to be made a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, which would allow employees to take legal action against employers when they are subject to discrimination due to them being menopausal. The Committee acknowledges that legislation would need to be carefully drafted, and as such they have asked the Government to launch a consultation within the next six months on how to introduce a new protected characteristic of menopause within the Equality Act.
On 25 May 2022 the Minister for Work and Pensions and Minister for Women, Baroness Stedman-Scott, confirmed in a letter to the chair of the Committee that the government has no current plans to introduce menopause as a protected characteristic, so it remains to be seen whether the government follows the Committee’s recommendations following the release of their report.
The report also exposes employers for being unaware of the health and safety issues that the menopause can present, therefore failing to carry out the necessary risk assessments that they are obliged to undertake to protect the health of employees. The Committee therefore recommends that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) should in the next six months publish guidance on the legal considerations when supporting employees experiencing menopause.
Get in touch with an Employment law advisor today
Awareness of menopause as a workplace and legal issue is growing. Employers must be prepared and do their best to assist employees. Please contact Kuits if you have any queries or would like advice. You can contact our Employment team on 0161 832 3434.