Although menopause doesn’t affect everyone, the majority of women will experience menopausal symptoms or side effects during this period of their life, which can include (but definitely not exclusive to) hot flushes, mood swings and irritability. In recent years there has been calls for menopause to be a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.
Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act 2010 is an Act of Parliament that gives equality to all workers. The purpose of the act is to make sure that everyone’s rights are met, and they are treated equally regardless of their gender, race or disability.
Characteristics currently protected under the act are:
- Race – this includes colour, nationality and national or ethnic origin.
- Sex – this includes pregnancy and maternity leave as well as sex discrimination like unequal pay for equal work or harassment at work.
- Disability – this includes physical or mental impairments which have a substantial effect on day-to-day activities such as communicating with another person or taking part in education courses at university level (e.g., dyslexia).
What is the current legal position?
The Equality Act 2010 sets out various aspects of employment discrimination, harassment and victimisation. It also provides protection to people who are at risk of pregnancy or who have suffered from a miscarriage or abortion as well as protecting against discrimination and harassment on the grounds of sex, which includes pregnancy and childbirth. The Act allows for flexible working arrangements that enable employees with caring responsibilities (including those related to children) to balance their work life with their personal life. The legislation also provides protections for women against unlawful treatment in relation to maternity leave or pay; return from maternity leave; time off for related appointments during pregnancy; time off for antenatal care after giving birth; time off for breastfeeding children up until they are 18 months old; taking additional unpaid maternity leave if children’s circumstances change unexpectedly – such as if the child falls ill or goes into care early. However, there is no protection under this act for women experiencing menopause and this is due to the lack of awareness around what it is and what women go through.
Insufficient awareness about menopause and its symptoms amongst employers
Menopause affects the health and wellbeing of women across the world. It is a natural process, not a disease or disability. Yet there is insufficient awareness amongst employers about menopause and its symptoms.
Employers need to gain knowledge on how to support women in their workplace who are going through this life stage, as well as being aware of any impact it may have on their employees’ ability to work effectively. Proactively seeking information and getting educated on these topics will be greatly beneficial for employers to start doing, especially now the conversation around menopause is only getting louder.
How can we make the workplace more menopause friendly?
There are several things that can be done to make the workplace more menopause friendly. Firstly, employers should increase awareness of menopause and its symptoms amongst their workforce. Secondly, managers will need training on how to support staff through their menopausal years. Finally, HR departments should provide training on handling issues related to this characteristic in the workplace.
Menopause should be a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.
The law currently does not protect menopause. There are no legal protections for menopausal women, or anyone else suffering from hormonal changes that result from their biology. The law is clear on this point:
- Menopause is not listed as a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010, nor is it mentioned anywhere else in UK legislation (e.g., [The Sex Discrimination Act 1975] (https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1975/63)).
- Menopause has never been included as a protected characteristic by any British court case and has definitely never been decided upon by any European court case either.
We believe that menopause should be included as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 to ensure the fair treatment of women in this cohort in the workplace. The health and wellbeing of women during menopause must be taken into account, and employers must take reasonable steps to support their employees through this transition and prevent unlawful discrimination in the workplace. Here at THE Agency, we believe this is a very important conversation to be having and we are dedicated to spreading awareness and information in order to help employers. We are creating an affectionately named ‘Menopause Hub’ where our network can access lots of information and become educated on the menopause and how this impacts on work. We will be updating our social media channels regularly so keep your eyes out for the launch.