In February 2022, as part of our Employee Wellbeing series, we published a Be Aware article The menopause: A business critical issue for employers highlighting key developments on this important issue, including recommendations made to the government by an independent taskforce in its report Menopause and employment: How to enable fulfilling working lives (Report). This week, the government has published a policy paper in response to that Report.
What did the Report recommend?
The Report made 10 recommendations suggesting action (1) by the government; (2) by employers; and (3) in relation to societal and financial issues. The key items of interest for employers are recommendations:
- for the government to amend the Equality Act to allow intersectional, multiple discrimination claims;
- for employers to lead a collaborative and government-backed campaign covering a range of issues including the importance of open conversations about the menopause in the workplace, training of line managers, workplace adjustments, flexible working and support groups;
- for larger employers to put in place workplace awareness, training and support via Employee Assistance Programmes.
How has the government responded?
Amending the Equality Act to allow intersectional, multiple discrimination claims
Menopause is not a protected characteristic under the current provisions of the Equality Act 2010. In practice this means that a claim for any discriminatory treatment relating to menopause has to be brought by reference to one of the existing protected characteristics such as sex, age or disability. This approach does not always sit comfortably or appropriately with the relevant issues and has come under widespread criticism. Further, existing provisions (under section 14) allowing for combined claims e.g. a claim based on a combination of age and sex have never been brought into force. Despite this, the government confirms in its policy paper that it will not be making any changes to the Equality Act 2010 on the basis that it believes that protection against unfair treatment of employees going through the menopause can be covered by the existing protected characteristics.
Employers to lead a collaborative and government-backed campaign
The government has indicated that employers are key in increasing available workplace support and enabling conversations about the menopause. It says that employers are critical to the effectiveness of menopause communications. The government confirms that it will support businesses and business groups when producing communications promoting their adoption of better working practices for supporting women through the menopause, including through Employer Assistance Programmes and Menopause Champions in the workplace.
Larger employers to put in place workplace awareness, training and support via Employee Assistance Programmes.
The government has stated that Employer Assistance Programmes offer vital support to employees regarding their mental health and wellbeing. It says that they are a valuable tool for individuals to use and for line managers to signpost to. However, it also recognises that not all employers will be able to offer this service, particularly smaller businesses. It says that it is exploring options for additional support for women’s reproductive health issues within the workplace, including menopause, through the Health and Wellbeing Fund.
What impact does this have on employers?
The publication of the government’s policy paper brings the issue of menopause in the workplace into sharp focus again. This is reinforced by the publication also this week of the government’s first ever Women’s Health Strategy for England tackling the gender health gap. These developments serve as a timely reminder to employers that menopause is a business critical issue, impacting approximately 4 million women aged 45-55 who are in work.
In line with the government’s recommendations in the policy paper, employers should take steps now to review the menopause support they make available to employees and consider its effectiveness, including how well it is communicated. Larger employers should also consider the role that Employee Assistance Programmes can play in this regard. Further suggestions for workplace support are made in our previous article.
The government’s decision not to make any changes to the Equality Act 2010 should be treated with caution. In practice, this is unlikely to deter discrimination claims and, as the profile of menopause has risen sharply in recent times, so too has the number of claims. Recent statistics suggest that claims citing menopause rose by 44% in 2021.
What else is on the horizon?
We are still awaiting the outcome of the Women and Equalities Committee’s inquiry on Menopause and the workplace. This is also likely to make a number of important recommendations affecting employers so a watching brief should be maintained.
DLA Piper’s Employment team can advise you on your business’ approach to menopause, assist you with implementing a menopause policy and provide training to your staff. For further information, please speak to your usual DLA Piper contact or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may also wish to fully review your organisation’s diversity and inclusion strategy, and your compliance with legal obligations, by completing the DLA Piper Diversity and Inclusion Index.
Our Employee Wellbeing series:
- The business case for employers reviewing their strategy on employee support;
- The menopause: A business critical issue for employers;
- Supporting employees through baby loss and neonatal treatment;
- Supporting employees undergoing fertility treatment;
- Domestic abuse: Providing support and empowering employees;
- Carers in the workplace: Why supporting employees with caring responsibilities matters.
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