The Women and Equalities Committee is conducting an inquiry into menopause and the workplace. In January, MPs heard from high profile employment lawyers who support making menopause a new protected characteristic alongside the other nine which are included in the Equality Act 2010.
The committee heard that there is a lack of clarity about employer obligations towards women going through the menopause, who have to rely on other protected characteristics such as disability and sex in order to seek legal protection for perceived wrongs. Women can experience negative or inappropriate comments about their menopause symptoms or miss out on pay or promotional opportunities as a result of them. Marian Bloodworth, a partner at Deloitte Legal, told the committee and that many women experience menopausal symptoms which literally affect their ability to work. She feels a protected characteristic of menopause would make it unlawful to discriminate against women who are menopausal or perimenopausal or those who are perceived to be going through it. She also said some employers were not aware of some of the health and safety issues that menopause can present or the need to do specific risk assessments as they do, for example, with pregnant women.
There is also a risk that the effect of menopausal symptoms are mistaken for capability issues. Menopausal women can end up being managed out of businesses by employers who assume there is a performance issue because the employee is not working in the same way as before. Navigating symptoms at work can also cause menopausal women to leave work voluntarily.
Handling menopause badly could result in the economy losing out on the vital skills of hundreds of thousands of women at the peak of their experience in their chosen field. The Committee will eventually report on the issue and the government will have to respond. Watch this space for potential changes to the Equality Act.
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