The high-profile topic of the menopause seems to be constantly in the news. Over the last few months, a number of significant reports have been published, most recently the House of Commons cross-party Women and Equalities Committee report Menopause and the Workplace. This concluded that employers’ lack of support for menopausal symptoms is pushing “highly skilled and experienced” women out of work, with knock-on effects on the gender pay gap, the pension gap and the number of women in senior leadership positions. The report also refers to the important strategic role of the Government.
What have we learned so far, what changes can we expect in the future and is there anything employers can do now to support their staff?
- On 2 May 2022, the Fawcett Society published its report Menopause and the Workplace which was based on data from the largest ever survey of menopausal and peri-menopausal women.
- On 18 July 2022, the Government published its policy paper Menopause and the Workplace: How to enable fulfilling lives. This was published in response to an independent report from 25 November 2021 about the impact of the menopause on women’s working lives particularly in the latter stages of their career.
- On 28 July 2022, the House of Commons cross-party Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) published its report Menopause and the Workplace which followed the WEC inquiry launched in July 2021.
According to the Fawcett report:
- 10% of women left their job during the menopause due to their symptoms.
- 14% reduced their hours at work.
- 8% had not applied for promotion.
- 80% women said their employer had not shared information, trained staff, or put in place a menopause absence policy.
- 41% of respondents said that the menopause or its symptoms were treated as a joke by people at work.
The Fawcett report concludes that workplaces are failing menopausal women and that change is urgently needed. It makes a number of recommendations such as a requirement for employers to have menopause action plans and making flexible working the default.
Government policy paper
As mentioned above, last month’s Government policy paper was published in response to an independent report from November 2021. That report contained ten recommendations to bring about comprehensive change and the Government policy paper responded to those.
Here are some of the key points:
- The Government does not believe further changes to the Equality Act 2010 are needed.
- The Government will explore how to develop suitable methodology to quantify the cost of the menopause to individuals, businesses, health services and society.
- One or more Menopause Employment Champions will be appointed by the Minister for Employment.
- There will be a Government-backed employer-led campaign with links to advice, guidance and best practice case studies.
- Large employers will be expected to put in place workplace awareness, training and support via Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) with a “champion” point of contact.
Looking specifically at the Equality Act 2010, the Government policy paper stated that menopause is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 Act. However, sex, age and disability, which are protected characteristics, already provide protection against unfair treatment due to the menopause. On that basis, the Government does not see any need to make changes to the Equality Act 2010.
The WEC report looks at three specific issues: menopause as a health issue, menopause in the workplace and legal reform. We consider the issues relevant to the workplace and legislative change here.
The WEC found that 4.5 million women aged 50-64 are currently in employment and that women over the age of 50 were the fastest growing group in the workforce. Women in this age group were highly skilled and experienced, typically at the peak of their careers, and role models for younger workers. However, employers’ lack of support for menopausal symptoms is pushing “highly skilled and experienced” women out of work, with knock-on effects on the gender pay gap, the pension gap and the number of women in senior leadership positions.
Consistent with the Fawcett report, the WEC found that some women were cutting back on their hours or missing out on promotion opportunities.
The WEC considers that the Government has a key strategic role in helping businesses and it should lead the way in developing and disseminating good practice. It calls for the Government:
- To 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 include examples of good and poor practice.
- In consultation with the Menopause Ambassador, to produce model menopause policies to assist employers, covering as a minimum how to request reasonable adjustments and other support, advice on flexible working, sick leave for menopause symptoms, provisions for education, training and building a supportive culture.
- To pilot a “menopause leave” policy within a public sector employer and to publish an evaluation.
As for the steps employers could take, encouraging open conversations, covering menopause during the induction processes, appointing workplace menopause champions, putting in place a menopause policy and holding training sessions were all mentioned in the report. However, the WEC highlighted two specific changes that could benefit those going through the menopause:
- Sickness policies which address menopause-related sickness. For example, policies which had “trigger points” when a number of short-term absences triggered a performance review or disciplinary action, had a particular impact of menopausal employees.
- Flexible working and a change in the place of work and hours of work was referred to repeatedly in the evidence give to the WEC. It recommends that the right to make a request for flexible working should be a day-one right for all employees. The WEC expressed disappointment that there had been no progress with the Employment Bill (first announced in December 2019) which referred to an extension of the right and no Government response to the consultation exercise on this topic which concluded in December 2021. For more details about the flexible working consultation paper see our earlier article here.
In relation to legislative reform, the WEC calls on the Government to consult within six months of the report about making menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 including a duty to provide reasonable adjustments for menopausal employees.
It also calls on the Government to “immediately” commence section 14 of the Equality Act 2010 which would allow for dual discrimination claims. It is argued that menopause is “intersectional” and for many people, experiencing it involves a combination of sex and age. If section 14 were enacted, a dual discrimination claim could be brought, rather than a discrimination claim being brought on more than one ground which is the case currently.
It’s not just the Equality Act 2010 which is important in the context of the menopause. There is extensive health and safety legislation which is relevant to employees experiencing the menopause. The WEC calls on the Health and Safety Executive (and the Equality and Human Rights Commission) to provide guidance on the menopause within the next six months as neither organisation currently has any advice about the menopause on their websites.
Taking into account the Government’s policy paper of 18 July 2022, it seems highly unlikely that there will be any changes to the Equality Act 2010 going forward in spite of the specific recommendations. Even so, there are clearly many proactive steps employers can take to support menopausal employees at what can be a challenging time, often over an extended period of several years.
For example, at Blake Morgan we have put in place a menopause policy and guidance for managers and staff, have provided awareness training for all staff and have trained menopause mentors. We are also a signatory to the Wellbeing of Women’s Menopause Workplace Pledge. As a signatory, we have committed to recognising that menopausal colleagues need support and we encourage talking openly, positively and respectfully about the menopause. Employers could also review their sickness absence and flexible working policies in view of the specific points addressed in the WEC report.
If we can assist in the preparation of policies and guidance or in the provision of training please get in touch with your usual Blake Morgan contact or any other member of the Employment team.
For details of our previous article on the menopause please see our article – What employers need to know about the menopause.
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