The government has published its highly anticipated response to the report “Menopause and the workplace: how to enable fulfilling working lives” which was published in November 2021.
Recently, increasing, and much deserved, attention has been paid to the important issue of the menopause and employment. An example of this is the independent report commissioned by the Minister for Employment and produced by the 50Plus Choices Roundtable. The Roundtable representatives examined how women can be enabled to fulfil their working lives, particularly in the latter stages of their careers.
The report made 10 recommendations in three key areas: (i) government policy; (ii) employer practice; and (iii) wider societal and financial change.
The recommendations were aimed at providing support and understanding from employers to employees experiencing menopause transition and included: (i) nominating a Menopause Ambassador to work on behalf of the government to represent the interests of people experiencing menopause transition; (ii) enacting section 14 of the Equality Act (the combined discrimination provisions) to allow a claim for direct discrimination to be based on more than one protected characteristic (for example, for most people, menopause involves a combination of sex and age); (iii) all the stages of menopause transition being referenced as a priority issue in the government’s public policy agenda on work, diversity and inclusion; and (iv) larger employers putting in place workplace awareness, training and support via Employee Assistance Programmes.
What is the government’s response to the report?
The government has now published its responses to the recommendations. Perhaps, the most significant response is the creation of the UK Menopause Taskforce. The government has said that it wants to ensure that menopause remains a top priority across government and society, and the establishment of the Taskforce is aimed at achieving this.
The Taskforce agreed in its inaugural meeting that work and employment would be the priority theme with one or more Menopause Employment Champions being appointed to sit on the Taskforce to give a voice to menopausal women. In addition, the first-ever Women’s Health Ambassador for England, Dame Lesley Regan, has been appointed. Dame Regan will also sit on the Taskforce and it is intended that she will work alongside the Minister for Employment on employment-related issues.
In response to the calls to allow combined or dual discrimination claims in relation to the menopause, the government has confirmed that it does not intend to make any changes to the Equality Act 2010. It is considered that the existing legislative framework, in particular the protected characteristics of sex, age and disability, provides sufficient protection against unfair treatment to employees who are going through the menopause.
In terms of ensuring that the menopause transition remains at the top of the government’s public policy agenda on work, diversity and inclusion, it is anticipated that the UK Menopause Taskforce will help with this. The Taskforce will look at the menopause as a “cross-cutting policy issue“, inviting views from representatives from different UK government departments across the four nations and external experts. This holistic approach is aimed at ensuring that best practice is shared and that menopause transition and employment continues to be addressed at government level.
The response from the government is encouraging, particularly the creation of the UK Menopause Taskforce and the proposal for the joined-up approach across the home nations.
Menopause in the workplace should not, and can no longer, be regarded as a taboo subject. A joint survey by BUPA and the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development found that three in five menopausal employees were negatively affected at work and that almost 900,000 employees in the UK left their jobs over an undefined period of time because of menopausal symptoms. As the report noted, these women will “generally be at the peak of their experience and knowledge“. Employers cannot afford to ignore this issue and lose such a valuable resource. However, it is clear employers should be supported in understanding the issues that employees experiencing the menopause can face. Hopefully, the recent steps that the government has taken, or intends to take, in response to the report will go some way to encouraging employers to address menopause support in the workplace.
If you have any questions or would benefit from guidance in supporting employees going through menopause transition, our PRM team would be happy to help, so please do not hesitate to get in touch.