With 51% of the population due to experience menopause later in life, and women of menopausal age being the fastest growing group in the workforce, there have been calls for greater rights and protections for menopausal women. 

Caroline Nokes, Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) stated that the omission of menopause as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act was no longer tenable. The current law does not serve or protect menopausal women and sadly, there is limited awareness and poor understanding from employers regarding health and safety and appropriate support measures which could be implemented to help women in the workplace (Menopause and the Workplace Report, 2022). Fundamentally, the law does not offer proper redress to those who suffer menopause related discrimination. A People Management article from June 2022 stated that research found that the number of tribunals that referenced the menopause had nearly doubled in a year. An analysis of court records had found that there were 23 employment tribunals citing menopause in 2021, an increase of 44% in the previous year – this included 16 tribunals claiming disability discrimination, 14 claiming  unfair dismissal and 10 claiming sex discrimination (People Management, June 2022). 

The Menopause and the Workplace Report by the Fawcett Society (2022) which polled 4,000 women aged 45-55, found that 10% had left their job because of symptoms of the menopause. 44% of women also stated that their ability to work had been affected due to the menopause with 14% reducing their hours and 8% not applying for a promotion because of their symptoms. Heather Jackson, co-founder of Gen M stated that ‘sadly a lot of women and others in menopause are not getting the support they need in the workplace during this life stage…things need to change for menopausal women, as well as trans and non-binary people in menopause to be able to continue to have fulfilling and successful careers” (People Management, May 2022). 

Calls for Menopause to become a Protected Characteristic

As it stands, individuals pursuing discrimination complaints relating to the menopause must either issue age, sex and/or disability discrimination which the WEC have found ‘ill-fitting. The Menopause and the Workplace report (July 2022) called on the Government to make menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 (in line with other conditions including pregnancy) for which employers would need to provide reasonable adjustments. Evidence showed that by failing to offer support for women experiencing menopause symptoms was forcing highly skilled and experienced workers out of the labour market. The WEC also said a dedicated ambassador would be able to produce model policies, disseminate good practice and guidance to employers, and work with stakeholders such as unions and advisory groups.

So, what could this potentially mean for Employers?

It remains to be seen whether menopause will become a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, but it does call for employers to take a proactive stance and ensure they have appropriate measures in place to support those going through the menopause.  

There are a number of steps employers can take to create a supportive and inclusive environment and culture where employees feel safe and comfortable to discuss menopause: 

  • Implement equality training for all staff and review current policies in place such as Dignity at Work, Bullying, Harassment etc.
  • Provide awareness training for staff, particularly line managers, so they are well-equipped to support staff. 
  • Implement a Menopause Policy or Code of Conduct. A Menopause Policy can look at reasonable adjustments which could be implemented as well as providing an outline of the key responsibilities of employees and the organisation/line managers.
  • Carry out Health & Safety Risk Assessments to ensure you are taking appropriate measures and making adjustments where necessary to support employees at work.