A group of MPs will scrutinise legislation and workplace practices to see whether more can be done to stamp out menopause-related discrimination and support women to stay in work longer.
The Women and Equalities Committee’s inquiry will look at whether further legislative requirements are needed to better support employees who experience the menopause and it will report on how policies can be shaped in order to improve gender equality.
In particular, it will look at whether legislation is needed to encourge organisations to develop menopause policies.
According to a 2019 CIPD and Bupa survey, three in five menopausal women were negatively affected at work and almost 900,000 had left their jobs as a result of menopause symptoms.
“Excluding menopausal women from the workplace is detrimental to our economy, our society and our place on the world stage,” said committee chair Caroline Nokes.
“Despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of women in the UK are currently going through the menopause – a process that can be both physically and mentally draining – it is ignored in legislation. It is time to uncover and address this huge issue, which has been left near-invisible for far too long.”
Under the Equality Act 2010, menopause discrimination is largely covered under three protected characteristics: age, sex and disability discrimination. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 legislates for safe working, which extends to the working conditions when experiencing menopausal symptoms.
The Government Equalities Office’s roadmap on gender equality includes a commitment for the government to conduct research into “what works to improve women’s reproductive health, across the life course” and “develop indicators relating to women’s health experience and impact on their work”.
Organisations often do not know where to start when it comes to implementing menopause policies and good practice, suggested Jenny Arrowsmith, an employment partner at law firm Irwin Mitchell.
“We’ve seen real enthusiasm from some of our clients to change workplace attitudes towards menopause. We’ve recently held a series of seminars on this issue and have seen, first hand, that there’s a huge appetite amongst HR practitioners to support menopausal women in their organisations and retain their skills and experience. There is good reason for this – menopausal symptoms can lead to absence, decline in performance and cause women to leave roles in which they once thrived,” she said.
“Many businesses don’t know where to start. Having a menopause policy is helpful, and one of the things this committee will consider, but I’d hope that the recommendations will go much further than this. It’s not just about having a policy. Businesses need to understand the menopause, how it can affect women differently and put in place support mechanisms to help them flourish.”
It’s not just about having a policy. Businesses need to understand the menopause, how it can affect women differently and put in place support mechanisms to help them flourish” – Jenny Arrowsmith, Irwin Mitchell
Organisations should not wait for the outcome of the inquiry before acting on the issue, said Emma Clark, an employment partner at Keystone Law.
“Rather than relying on the government to mandate the future on this topic, it is clear that employers can voluntarily make a great deal of progress on this key issue,” said Clark.
“For instance, voluntary menopause policies should be considered by employers and importantly, supporting those through the menopause could be incorporated into existing policies. This would entail adapting equal opportunities, flexible working and sickness absence policies.”
Clark said that employers should educate their staff and expressly mention the menopause in diversity and equality training sessions. They should also ensure that sickness absence tracking systems record time off for menopause-related symptoms as this should not be allowed to impact selection for redundancy or performance management protocols.
The inquiry is open until 17 September and is seeking evidence around:
- the nature and extent of discrimination faced by women experiencing the menopause and how it impacts wider society
- the economic impact of menopause discrimination
- how businesses should factor in the needs of employees going through the menopause
- how practices designed to address menopause discrimination at work can be implemented
- examples of best practice
- how to support people who experience the menopause but do not identify as women
- whether current legislation protects women from discrimination and whether it should be amended
- whether further legislation is required to enable employers to put in place a workplace menopause policy
- how effective government action has been at addressing workplace discrimination related to the menopause
- whether the Government Equalities Office has been effective at working across government to embed a strategic approach.