The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) published a report on menopause and the workplace in 2022, and the UK government has now published its response to the recommendations made in the report. It is worth noting that, as health is a devolved matter, this response only outlines the approach of the government in England. The government has rejected the majority of the recommendations, and says that it does not plan to make any changes to the Equality Act.
Consultation proposals and responses
- Appointment of a Menopause Ambassador
The government’s response is to accept this recommendation by appointing a Menopause Employment Champion. Although there is no specific timing for this yet, it indicates that the appointment will take place in due course. This will be a Department for Work and Pensions ministerial appointment, and the appointee will be working together with the Women’s Health Ambassador on the issue of menopause and employment. The role is intended to be focused on working with employers to encourage and disseminate awareness, good practice and guidance.
- Production of model menopause policies
The government has decided not to accept this recommendation as it did not consider it necessary at the current time. The government does state that it is supportive of the idea of education and information dissemination to employers and colleagues in the workplace for better awareness of menopause symptoms and how women can be supported in the workplace. It has also highlighted that organisations such as Acas and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development have produced resources on managing the effects of the menopause for employers and employees.
- Development and pilot of a menopause leave policy
This recommendation was not accepted by the government. The government noted that the policy aim is to support women going through the menopause to remain in the workplace and to equip employers to be able to support their employees who are going through the menopause. As such, it believes that creating a specific leave for menopause could be counterproductive to the aim of keeping women in work.
- Bringing forward legislation to make the right to request flexible working a day-one right
As the government has committed to promoting flexible working, this recommendation was accepted and the government committed to making the right to request flexible working a day-one right in December 2022. The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill is due to go through its third reading on 24 February 2023, although a clear date cannot be given for when the Bill will be enacted and the changes take effect.
- Publication of HSE and EHRC guidance on supporting employees going through the menopause
This recommendation was accepted in part by the government as it is working on the development of enhanced guidance to provide clear principles for employers to apply in support of disabled people and those with long-term health conditions in the workplace. It believes that this guidance could also be applicable to workers who are experiencing menopause symptoms and, as the EHRC is an independent public body, the government will share the WEC’s recommendation with them. However, it will ultimately be for the EHRC to consider any further steps.
- A new protected characteristic of menopause
This recommendation was not accepted and the government has said that it will work within the existing legal structure while considering how different changes could provide additional protection. The responses state that change to the Equality Act 2010 has to be carefully considered, in particular to counter against the risk of inadvertently creating other forms of discrimination. The government felt that existing protection under the Equality Act 2010 should largely cover employees experiencing the menopause through the protected characteristics of age, sex and disability.
- Commencement of Equality Act 2010 combined discrimination provision
This recommendation was also rejected by the government on the basis that the introduction of dual protected characteristics should not be carried out in a piecemeal manner, and the WEC’s recommendation could be seen as cherry-picking the dual characteristics of sex and age. The government identified a possible 20 further dual protected characteristic combinations.
The limited uptake by the government of the WEC’s recommendations does not prevent employers seizing the initiative themselves to address many of the issues highlighted in the WEC’s report and, where appropriate, to adopt their recommendations voluntarily. Employers should also keep an eye on our newsletter for updates on the Flexible Working Bill, as well as any further guidance that might come as a result of the appointment of a Menopause Employment Champion. In the meantime, employers should continue to make their workplaces inclusive environments for employees who are experiencing the menopause. This could include workplace training and guidance to provide better information and awareness, as well as implementing flexible working strategies as a form of support.
If you would like to discuss anything in this article, or would like guidance from an employment perspective, please contact a member of our team.