UK: Menopause and the workplace – government rejects call to make menopause a new protected characteristic
The UK government has rejected a call to make the menopause a new protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. The government has also confirmed that it does not intend to introduce a new duty to make reasonable adjustments for menopausal women at this time or develop a model menopause policy to help employers, as had been recommended. It has also rejected a call to allow dual discrimination claims at employment tribunals relating to a combination of protected characteristics, eg age and sex.
The government has, however, decided to accept some of the Women and Equalities Committee’s recommendations and will make some changes, including:
- introducing a new ‘Menopause Employment Champion’ who will be appointed in due course and will work with employers on menopause workplace issues and report to DWP ministers at regular intervals
- developing ‘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.’ The guidance, which could also apply where workers are experiencing symptoms that may occur in the menopause, is expected to be published by the Health and Safety Executive.
- Updating flexible working laws. The government has restated its commitment to make flexible working a day one right, allow employees to make two flexible working requests within a 12-month period (rather than only one) and reduce the time employers have to respond to two months (from three months).
Key Action Points for Human Resources and In-house Counsel
It seems there are no imminently planned changes to the employment rights of menopausal women specifically. This means that where employees are impacted at work by symptoms of the menopause, they will need to continue to rely on existing legal protections – such as protection from sex, age and disability discrimination, the right to request flexible working and sick leave and pay.
Separately, the government has announced that £1.97 million has been awarded to support women experiencing reproductive health issues in the workplace. The award will be shared between 16 charities following successful applications to this year’s Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise Health and Wellbeing Fund. It is hoped that this money will help women who are experiencing or have experienced pregnancy, pregnancy loss, menopause, fertility problems and other gynaecological conditions to remain in and return to the workplace.