Last month, the Women and Equalities Committee published its first report on menopause in the workplace, surveying how people experiencing menopause are receiving little support from their employers to manage symptoms and remain comfortable in work environments.
As a result, certain numbers of mature employees cut their hours or feel incapable of taking on more responsibilities, limiting their career opportunities and earning potential. The current Equality Act of 2010 does not mandate any employee protections for menopause, in the case of practical adjustments or cases of discrimination.
Chloe Pugh is an employment lawyer at Pannone Corporate. The firm was invited to give evidence at the Women and Equalities Committee inquiry, providing legal insight from an employer’s perspective to illuminate best practices and shared challenges. Pugh comments:
“The report, following the long-awaited inquiry, marks a big shift away from what has been a confused and complicated picture about how employers should deal with the issue of menopause. Moving forward, we will have a much clearer set of obligations for organisations and businesses which will better support women.”
“However, despite the breadth and depth of oral and written evidence considered during the Women and Equalities Committee inquiry, the publication of today’s report shows that there will be no fundamental change in the law. Despite calls for such a change, it’s highly unlikely that menopause will be made a “protected characteristic” under the Equality Act 2010, which currently provides protection from being discriminated against due to factors such as age, sex, disability, race, and religion. The view appears to be that to expand the list of nine characteristics to include menopause, would be unworkable considering the difficulties in determining at what point someone has the protected characteristic, as symptoms and experiences vary so significantly.”
“The key will be to implement support, guidance, and training that sits alongside a meaningful and robust Menopause Policy, which should provide businesses with a more defined HR roadmap to ensure changes are embedded into organisational culture and habits.”
“The onus will most certainly be placed on an employer to take reasonable steps to make adjustments to allow menopausal women to continue work and retain this talent in their business and the workforce. Employers will need to follow the guidelines and take action and embrace this hugely positive step forward in an area which has been neglected for far too long.”
The results of the survey gave actionable suggestions on how employers can better support their staff through their menopause. Practical provisions would include improved ventilation, appropriate and comfortable uniforms, and easy access to drinking water and toilets. In terms of policy, companies can take steps forward to put in place their own protections and provide both flexibility and workplace education on the symptoms and impact of menopause.
Ultimately, the report concluded that there had to be a systematic cultural change to remove the stigma surrounding menopause in the workplace and to create accessible touchpoints for support, both in terms of healthcare and employee well-being, as we wait for legal reforms to introduce suitable protections into law.
If you would like to find out more about the WEC Inquiry, please find the full report here.