Employers to step in as menopause rejected as a protected characteristic

The UK government's rejection of calls to add menopause protections to the Equality Act shouldn’t stop businesses from creating their own policies, say women’s rights advocates and HR experts.

Calls for employers to step up came after the government rejected the proposal made by the Women and Equalities committee to make menopause a protected characteristic, making it illegal to discriminate against those experiencing menopausal symptoms.

The government also stood firm against calls for a large-scale pilot of menopause leave, a move which has resulted in widespread criticism.

A government spokesperson said: “We have put women’s health at the top of the agenda as part of the first-ever women’s health strategy for England… and encourage employers to be compassionate and flexible to the needs of their employees.”

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Jemima Olchawski, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said practical business-led solutions, such as absence policies, dress code changes, flexible work, menopause training for managers and the creation of support networks, should be put in place regardless of government advice.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Employers can make a real difference to their staff by responding to the needs of employees who are experiencing menopause.”

Olchawski added that businesses could lose experienced staff if they aren’t proactive.

Her comments align with 2022 Fawcett Society research which found one in 10 women had left a job during menopause.

A separate study from Research Without Barriers found one million women in the UK could be forced out of jobs because their employers failed to support them.

Claire McCartney, senior resourcing adviser at the CIPD said a universally inclusive workplace culture with a day-one right to flexible working could improve outcomes.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “For organisations who wish to implement their own menopause policies, or create a menopause-friendly workplace, they should start by creating a culture that allows employees to talk about the menopause.”

Emma Bartlett, partner at law firm CM Murray, explained that while failure to change menopause legislation is a missed opportunity companies can make their own policies.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “A menopause policy is a great starting point, but it needs to be activated and supported by senior management.

“By raising awareness through education, training and a menopause policy, employers will go some way to create a respectful environment for menopausal employees and mitigate the [tribunal] risk claims.”

Jennifer Young, founder of a self-titled menopause-focussed consultancy, said a lack of legal change should not mean employers have no responsibility.

She told HR magazine: “I think this is diverting our attention from existing moral and legal obligations.

“The key is for businesses not to listen to that noise when they need to focus on ethics, practicality and the business environment they want to achieve.”