The reasons behind this are multifaceted, but a key contributor is that many women going through the menopause have been unable to get the support at work that they need and employers have not been well enough informed or equipped to manage and adapt to support their staff who are dealing with menopause symptoms.
Menopause and the workplace:
That said, awareness around the issue has risen considerably and continues to grow. The government’s 2019 roadmap on gender equality promised to conduct research into what will work to improve women’s reproductive health and develop indicators relating to women’s health experience and the impact on their working life.
Last year, the government launched an inquiry through the Women and Equalities Select Committee specifically on the extent of discrimination faced by women in the workplace and how policy and workplace practices can better support those experiencing the menopause.
Since then, evidence has been collated and reviewed around how businesses can factor in the needs of employees going through the menopause, how effective existing legislation and government action around the menopause has been, as well as what’s needed for the future.
The progress and future outlook
Despite the breadth and depth of oral and written evidence considered during the Committee’s inquiry, the publication of today’s report does not result in any fundamental change in the law.
Despite calls for such a change, it’s highly unlikely that the 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 the menopause, would be unworkable considering the difficulties in determining at what point someone has the protected characteristic, as symptoms and experiences vary so significantly.
However, the publication of today’s long-awaited report, following the inquiry marks a big shift away from what has been a confused and complicated picture about how employers should deal with the issue.
Moving forward, we will have a much clearer set of obligations for organisations and businesses which will better support women.
It’s essential that training is developed to embed this into organisational culture and habits, as well as regular reviews to ensure this is working effectively. Better support and guidance, alongside a well-meaning and robust menopause policy, will provide comfort and guidance for HR teams and managers when implementing such changes.
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 guidance and take action and embrace this hugely positive step forward in an area which has been neglected for far too long.
Chloe Pugh is an employment lawyer at Pannone Corporate