Is menopause the next protected characteristic?

Posted 14/02/2022 : By: Kathryn Knight

There are currently nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act. Discrimination that happens because of one or more of them is unlawful under the Act. The characteristics are:

  • age
  • disability
  • race
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage or civil partnership
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • pregnancy & maternity

The House of Commons Womens and Equalities Commitee undertook the third hearing of an inquiry into menopause and the workplace on 19 January. The discussion was looking at whether menopause will be introduced as an additional protected characteristic under the Equality Act.

Other considerations included the use of article 14 within the Equality Act to enable potential claims to be brought and a requirement to provide clarity for employers on their responsibilities through effective use of bodies including the HSE, EHRC and ACAS.

Why is menopause a workplace issue?

  • A poll of 2,000 women currently experiencing menopause or premenopausal symptoms across the UK, conducted by Koru Kids, found 18% were looking to quit their jobs because of their symptoms.
  • Koru Kids estimates there are at least 5.87 million women of menopausal or premenopausal age currently working in the UK – extrapolated from data from the Office for National Statistics – meaning that at least 1,057,000 woman could be looking to quit because of their symptoms.
  • The most common reason was the pressures put on them 42%; followed by a failure to receive the flexible working they need to manage their symptoms 39%; and a lack of understanding from management of what they are experiencing 39%.
  • The research also found that 7 in 10 women who took time off as a result of their symptoms (70%) did not tell their employer the real reason why they needed to take the time off, while nearly three-quarters (73%) of women experiencing menopause said they did not feel able to talk openly about their symptoms with colleagues.
  • A quarter (24%) of women experiencing menopause symptoms reported they were unhappy in their jobs because of a lack of support, with 63% noting that their place of work has not introduced any kind of policy to make things easier for anyone experiencing menopause symptoms.
  • A study by the Menopause Experts shows that references to the menopause in cases of unfair dismissal or sex discrimination at employment tribunals has risen significantly over the last four years. According to the study, there were five employment tribunals referencing the claimant’s menopause in 2018, six in 2019 and 16 in 2020. There were 10 in the first six months of 2021 alone.

What can employers do to create a menopause inclusive workplace?

Employers should consider the following areas:

Culture

  • Educate the workplace and normalise the conversation on menopause
  • Get your senior leadership team on board; recognition that menopause is a workplace issue
  • Engage with Occupational Health and/or Employee Assistant Programme provider
  • Review onboarding and exit interview documentation

Employers should be able to recognise when support is needed and facilitate open conversations with employees about what they are going through. Internal campaigns, webinars and or even external speakers are a great way to engage people and provide a basis to start having those conversations.

Aside from the obvious moral case, outline the business impact of lack of support for those experiencing menopause e.g. loss of talent and the cost to replace these people, low morale and productivity.

Contact providers to see what information and resources are available to help support staff with menopause issues and raise awareness

Does your existing documentation inform new starters about the support available for employees experiencing the menopause? Could menopause be listed as a reason for leaving on the exit interview form?

Policies

  • Implement a menopause policy (this is not a legal requirement yet but is recognised as best practice).
  • Use inclusive language. Changes due to hormones can affect anyone during their lives for a number of reasons, including, pregnancy, fertility treatment, gender transitioning and conditions that require hormone treatment.
  • Review key policies e.g. capability/performance, sickness absence and flexible working to assess how they may be affecting employees experiencing menopausal symptoms.

Environment

  • Conduct risk assessments/stress risk assessments
  • Adjustments such as adaptions to uniforms to help make staff more comfortable, desk fans, more breaks, etc.
  • Promote menopause awareness to all employees via campaigns such as National Women’s week in May and World Menopause day in October (…you don’t need to wait for these dates!)

Take a look at our original article posted in October for more information: https://www.ashtonshrconsulting.co.uk/news/menopause-and-the-workplace-how-to-ensure-staff-stay-well-and-thrive-in-the-workplace.

If you need assistance creating a menopause policy or would like advice on how you can support your staff, please get in touch with a member of the team.

 

References:

https://www.shponline.co.uk/wellbeing/24-of-women-are-unhappy-in-their-jobs-due-to-lack-of-menopausal-support-says-new-survey/

https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/news/articles/number-tribunals-involving-menopause-triples-in-three-years-research-finds

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