Back in July 2022, the Women and Equalities Committee of the House of Commons published a report that highlighted how the current law did not protect working women with menopausal issues, with many experienced and talented women at the peak of their careers having to leave their employment this impacting on the UK economy. As a consequence, they made a number of recommendations to support working women with menopausal issues.
Menopause and perimenopause can cause symptoms like anxiety, sleeping issues, mood swings, problems with memory or concentration, hot flushes, headaches or migraines, muscle aches, joint pains and irregular periods; see here for further details on the symptoms. These symptoms can last several months or years or change over time and can have a significant impact on women’s personal lives, their relationships and work.
Although the Government is not willing to add menopause as a defined disability under the Equality Act 2010 (EA 2010), but if the condition meets the requirements of a disability under section 6 of the EA 2010, then case law such as Rooney v Leicester City Council suggests that the employee is protected and if the employer ignores a working woman’s menopausal issues they could be subject to a substantial disability discrimination damages claim as well as sex discrimination claim if treated unfavourably as in the case of Merchant v BT Plc (2012), where a female worker on a final written warning was dismissed for poor performance where the manager failed to act on a GP letter that suggested poor performance related to menopause issues that affected her concentration at times. The manager did not seek further medical clarity on the matter, which was a breach of the employer’s own policy on this.
What is the Government’s approach to menopause issues in the workplace?
The Government on 24th January 2023 published their response to the recommendations made by the Women and Equalities Committee on addressing menopausal issues and have rejected specific recommendations of making menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 and have rejected the proposal of a pilot menopause leave arrangements as being unnecessary and counterproductive to achieving their goals in addressing such matters which if implemented could have resulted in other forms of discrimination like discrimination against men suffering from long-term medical conditions.
The government’s focus appears to be on encouraging employers to be compassionate and flexible about menopausal issues faced by working women, including for employers to implement workplace menopause policies with flexible working patterns as the default option unless there are good reasons not to do so (not the law as yet).
Furthermore, the Government is in principle committed to appointing a Menopause Employment Champion who will provide guidance to employers on how to address menopause issues at work.
What should employers do?
Various surveys suggest that that menopause is a key workplace issue thus employers must ensure that they address matters in a fair and reasonable manner in particular to have in place a menopause policy that makes clear how women workers are supported by their employer on such matters.
The article is for informational and educational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. If you require any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact our free advice line team at 0116 274 9193.