Insights

Nighat Sahi

Published 7 September 2022
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Menopause in the Workplace Update

Will the Menopause be made a protected characteristic?

If you have been reading our posts about the menopause in the workplace, you will know that we have been following the progress of the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee (the Committee) inquiry opened in July 2021 and titled, “An invisible cohort: Why are workplaces failing women going through menopause?”

You may also recall that in September 2021, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, British Menopause Society and the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare produced a joint submission for the Committee. At the same time, the Employment Lawyers Association also submitted a 34-page report and in due course gave direct evidence to the inquiry.

Menopause and the Equality Act

At the moment, the menopause is not a “protected characteristic” in its own right under the Equality Act 2010, although there are various ways in which an employer may fail in the duty they owe to their employees in respect of someone who is suffering from the menopause.

Findings and recommendations of The Women and Equalities Committee

However, following the receipt of the above evidence, the Committee have now published their first report of session 22-23, titled “Menopause and the workplace”. The findings include that “current law does not serve or protect menopausal women. There is poor employer awareness of both health and safety and equality law relating to menopause. More fundamentally, the law does not offer proper redress to those who suffer menopause related discrimination”.

The report discusses at length the questions of whether or not the menopause should be made a protected characteristic and reported on the challenges of the current law in respect of menopause related discrimination and the need to ‘shoehorn’ claims into existing characteristics of age, sex and/or disability.

Section 14 of the Equality Act 2010

The report went on to recommend that Section 14 of the Equality Act 2010 should be enacted immediately.

Section 14 contains a provision, not yet in force, to cover direct discrimination on up to two combined grounds, e.g. disability and gender, or disability and race. This is often known as ‘dual discrimination’.

The Committee found that section 14 “would strengthen protection for women and people facing menopause related discrimination …[and] provides a partial solution and is ‘shelf-ready’. The Government should immediately commence section 14 of the Equality Act 2010”

Creating a new Protected characteristic

The report also recommended that the menopause should be designated as a protected characteristic (subject to further consultation) and that “The Government should launch a consultation on how to amend the Equality Act to introduce a new protected characteristic of menopause, including a duty to provide reasonable adjustments for menopausal employees. This consultation should commence within six months of publication of this report. The Government’s consultation response should include a review of whether the newly commenced s14 (above) has mitigated concerns about the current law”.

The government response

So far, the Government has not indicated that it intends to follow either recommendation but with such powerful findings in the report, we will continue to follow issues relating to menopause in the workplace situations with a sense of anticipation, and we’ll let you know of any developments.

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