Menopause & Work Reform?

Menopause and the Workplace Report July 2022

‘A 2019 survey conducted by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that three in five menopausal women- usually aged between 45 and 55- were negatively affected at work and that almost 900,000 women in the U.K. left their jobs over an undefined period of time because of menopausal symptoms.’

A significant proportion of the workforce are now women aged between 45-55 and recognising the importance of menopause awareness and impact on women at work a report was commissioned in terms of healthcare and the extent of discrimination faced by menopausal people in the workplace.

In July 2022 the Equalities Committee published their report ‘Menopause and the Workplace’. The headline takeaway from the report is that it was found that ‘the current law does not serve or protect menopausal women. Whilst the law rightly protects women from pregnancy and maternity discrimination, it does not specifically protect menopause.’

You can read the full report here:

Government response to recommendations for reform of menopause laws and protections

On Tuesday 24th January 2023 the government published their response to the report.

In short, of the recommendations made the government have accepted, partly accepted, or accepted in principle six of the recommendations, mostly in relation to the need for reform in terms of awareness of menopause, education and healthcare.

The recommendations that have been accepted in principle in regard to workplace reforms are:

1. A menopause ambassador & reporting

The Government should appoint a Menopause Ambassador to work with stakeholders from business (including small to medium enterprises), unions, and advisory groups to encourage and disseminate awareness, good practice and guidance to employers. The Menopause Ambassador should publish a six-monthly report on the progress made by businesses, and such report should include examples of good practice as well as noting particularly poor practice. – Accepted in principle

2. Flexible working as a day one right

The Government should bring forward legislation before the end of the current Parliament to make the right to request flexible working a day-one right for all employees. It should issue employers with guidance encouraging them to grant any reasonable requests for flexible working, rather than placing the burden on the employee to justify their request. – Accepted and high on their agenda is the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill, currently going through Parliament, which would deliver these changes to flexible working generally.

What has been rejected?

Critically the things that the government have said they will not implement or consider further at this time are:

1. To consult on making menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

‘The government agrees that it is important that women who suffer substantial and longer-term menopausal effects should be adequately protected from discrimination in the workplace. However, we are not satisfied that the evidence given to the Committee during its inquiry fully supports new legislation, and in particular introducing menopause as a new protected characteristic, to protect women experiencing discrimination related to the effects of the menopause.’

2. Introduce dual characteristic protection under the Equality Act – sex and age as a single dual protected characteristic to protect women going through menopause.

The response has expressed ‘concerns about the significant additional burden which commencement of Section 14 would place on employers and service providers. The government remains concerned about this particularly the potential for creating new areas of dispute over self-identity and concerns about hierarchies of rights.’

3. Provide a legal obligation on employers to provide reasonable adjustments for menopausal employees.

4. Consider or trial menopause leave

The Government should work with a large public sector employer with a strong public profile to develop and pilot a specific ‘menopause leave’ policy and provide an evaluation of the scheme and proposals for further roll out, within 12 months of commencing the scheme. – Not accepted.

‘The government’s policy aim, as detailed in the Women’s Health Strategy, is to support menopausal women to remain in the workplace, and to ensure employers are well-equipped to support their workforce during the menopause. For this reason, we are focusing our efforts on disseminating best practice and encouraging employers to implement workplace menopause policies and other forms of support such as flexible working, which can play a vital role in supporting people to remain in work. We are concerned that specific menopause leave may be counterproductive to achieving this goal.’

5. Produce model menopause policy

We recommend that the Government, in consultation with the Menopause Ambassador, produces model menopause policies to assist employers. The model policies should cover, as a minimum: how to request reasonable adjustments and other support; advice on flexible working; sick leave for menopause symptoms; and provisions for education, training and building a supportive culture. – Not agreed.

The government has stated that they do not believe a model menopause policy is necessary at this moment and has referred to other steps being taken by employers and organisations, including Acas, to develop workplace policies and guidance.

The response states: ‘we do not believe a model menopause policy is necessary at this moment. The government agrees with the Committee that there is much that employers can and should do to help their employees experiencing the menopause. We are supportive of the aim to educate and inform employers and workplace colleagues about the potential symptoms of the menopause, and how they can support women at work. The government also agrees that it has a key strategic role in helping businesses and should lead the way in disseminating good practice. Many organisations have introduced workplace policies and other forms of support such as menopause champions, training for employees and line managers, and signposting employees to occupational health services.’

You can read the full response here:

Real change comes from us

As is to be expected from the current government they are reluctant to legislate and provide any additional legal onus on employers.

The recommendations that will have real impact for women are around wider awareness and changes to healthcare.

As much as I would have loved for the government to put in place legal protections for women I have said it before but the real change comes when employers do these things voluntarily and through cultural changes rather than being forced to do so by government regulations.

We all know that getting good quality employees these days is hard and therefore the best employers who attract the best talent will be looking after their people, providing the support and empathy needed anyway.

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