Not retiring: taking legal action on the menopause

The Equality and Human Rights Commission [EHRC] has issued guidance for employers on the menopause as legal cases rise.

Scrabble cubes spell out menopause. Plant in the background.

 

There was a time last year when the menopause was in the news regularly. Several employers announced menopause policies or guidance. Since then legal cases involving the menopause have increased, although menopause in itself is not a protected characteristic in law, despite studies showing many women have dropped out of the workplace as a result of it.

Research shows that one in 10 women surveyed who have worked during the menopause have left their jobs due to symptoms, while two thirds of working women between the ages of 40 and 60 with experience of menopausal symptoms said they have had a mostly negative impact on them at work. However, very few workers request workplace adjustments during this time, often citing concerns about potential reactions.

This week comes news of new guidance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission on menopause in the workplace, setting out employer’s legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010 where menopause can fall under disability, age or sex, but not a combination of them all – although some would argue that disability seems an inappropriate category for what is a normal process of ageing for women which affects some more than others.

The new guidance from the EHRC aims to clarify employers’ legal obligations and provide practical tips for employers on making reasonable adjustments and fostering positive conversations about the menopause with their workers.

In addition to sex and age, it says that if menopause symptoms have a long term and substantial impact on a woman’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, they may be considered a disability. Under the Equality Act 2010, an employer will be under a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments and to not discriminate against the worker.

The EHRC is encouraging employers to carefully consider the guidance and adapt their policies and practices accordingly to ensure fairness and inclusivity in the workplace. It’s a good first step, but the calls for menopause to be considered a protected characteristic are likely to continue, given the increasing number of older women in the workplace and the compounding impact of different factors in menopause discrimination – ageism and sexism as well as disability.



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