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Ministers reject calls for menopause support

Kate Palmer, HR Advice & Consultancy Director - Peninsula

A proposal to introduce “menopause leave” in England has been rejected by Ministers. A recommendation to make menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act has also been dismissed.

The Women and Equalities Committee, who were behind the proposals, have slammed the decision, saying that “government progress has been glacial and its response complacent.”

Kate Palmer, HR Advice & Consultancy Director at Peninsula, warns that despite the outcome, employers still have a duty to support their employers going through menopause:

“A survey conducted by British Menopause Society found that almost one in two women (45%) felt their menopause symptoms had a negative impact on their work.

“Given that the menopause will impact approximately half of the population at some point in their lives, the majority of whom will be of working age, the decision to bench these proposals may seem a step backwards in the fight for gender equality.

“However, this doesn’t mean that employers can ignore menopause. Whilst it won’t be a standalone protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, employers should remember that affected employees are still covered under existing characteristics.

“First, any health condition, including the menopause, may be considered a disability under the Equality Act if its symptoms cause a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the employee’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Also, since only females, and those assigned female at birth, are affected by menopause, placing an employee at a disadvantage for a women’s health issue could amount to sex discrimination or harassment.

“Introducing a contractual entitlement to menopause leave could help affected employees. However, it may be more beneficial for organisations to instead implement measures to support them to continue working. For example, offering hybrid working arrangements and flexi-hours may allow employees to remain comfortable without losing out on pay or work projects.

“Similarly, discounting any periods of menopause-related absence from disciplinary procedures and creating a culture of open communication will enable employees to reach out to their employer if they are struggling, and agreed tailored adjustments which will directly alleviate any discomfort they experience. Many employees will not want to take time off work, so creating an environment where health discussions are welcomed, and adjustments expected, can be a win-win solution for all.

“The menopause can be a difficult time for employees, with many reporting feelings of embarrassment and discomfort about having related discussions, in addition to the physical and emotional symptoms typically associated with this period. As such, it’s important that employers are adequately trained in first holding these conversations before they can consider providing effective support to affected individuals. Menopause policies can further highlight the steps employees should take, and the support measures which are available, should they need them. Doing so can help increase staff retention, reduce recruitment expenses, improve productivity, happiness, and wellbeing, and ensure a more diverse workforce.”

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