Menopause should be protected characteristic, say MPs

Women and Equalities Committee says UK is ‘haemorrhaging talent’ and calls for a raft of initiatives to improve workplace support for those experiencing the condition

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Menopause should become a protected characteristic under the Equality Act and a special ambassador should be in place to keep women in the workplace, a report from a cross-party group of MPs has said.

The Women and Equalities Committee’s (WEC) Menopause and the Workplace report, published today (28 July), stated that employers’ failure to offer support for women experiencing menopause was forcing “highly skilled and experienced” workers out of the labour market, and the country was “haemorrhaging talent” as a result.

As well as calling on the government to make menopause a protected characteristic under tthe Equality Act 2010 (in line with other conditions including pregnancy), for which employers would need to provide reasonable adjustments, 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.

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The report found the main reasons that women experiencing menopause gave for choosing to leave the workplace included stigma, lack of support and discrimination.

Caroline Nokes, chair of the WEC, said the omission of menopause as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act was “no longer tenable, given that 51 per cent of the population will experience menopause”.

“Menopausal women have been mocked and maligned for too long. It is time that the government seizes the opportunity to enact change. It is time to support, and celebrate, these women,” she added.

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Claire McCartney, senior inclusion advisor at the CIPD, said the organisation welcomed the report’s findings, and that it was “vital” for employers to ensure those experiencing menopause were properly supported in the workplace.

“We are pleased that findings from the inquiry that we gave evidence at are shining a spotlight on the importance of workplace support for those experiencing menopause transition,” she said.

“The CIPD has worked diligently to raise awareness of the importance of creating menopause-friendly workplaces, including being the first to call for the creation of menopause ambassadors.”

Philip Richardson, partner and head of employment law at Stephensons, said: “Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for many people experiencing the menopause to feel unsupported and stigmatised in the workplace. While we have seen some employers introduce specific menopause policies, this is still in the minority and for many smaller companies, it isn’t even on the radar.

"At the moment, an employee could explore a claim under the Equality Act via existing protected characteristics such as age, sex and disability discrimination, however this can often be a complex undertaking and it is often difficult to bring claims under the existing legislative framework. 

"It is clear that more must be done to facilitate a supportive working environment for employees experiencing menopause and to ensure that support is mirrored in legislation.”

Colin Davidson, head of employment at Edwards Duthie Shamash and co-chair of the Discrimination Law Association, who gave evidence to the WEC, said it was “outreageous” that in 2022 women are still forced to say that the menopause is tantamount to a disability to have any legal redress against their employers, adding that it was “tragic” that so many women have had to endure discrimination.

“The government must listen to the committee’s proposals and act immediately to make the menopause a protected characteristic to prevent women from suffering harassment and discrimination at work simply for going through a natural part of their lifecycle,” he said.

Heather Jackson, co-founder of GenM, said it was “great” to see thee menopause being taken more seriously as an issue: “With women of menopausal age now the fastest growing demographic in the workplace, it goes without saying that it is important for those in menopause to feel safe, comfortable and supported in their careers during this transition.”

However, she added it was important to remember that the condition impacted every aspect of life, and the response needed to reflect this. 

“We can’t silo off the menopause as simply a workplace issue, a medical issue or a gender issue – it’s the sum of all parts,” she said.