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Should menopause be a protected characteristic?

Kate Palmer - Peninsula UK

MP Caroline Nokes, chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, has said changing equality legislation to protect women going through the menopause should “not be ruled out”. The committee is leading an inquiry into discrimination on the issues.

The inquiry is looking at whether menopause should be a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, hearing testimony from women who have suffered discrimination in the workplace and been forced to use disability legislation to seek redress in tribunal claims. The number of tribunal claims involving menopause has seen a drastic rise over the last couple years, but rulings have been mixed, due to menopause not being listed as a disability.

Nokes says: “If the current legislation is working then great, but if it’s not working, and we’ve made maternity a protected characteristic, then do we need to look at making the menopause a protected characteristic?”

Kate Palmer is HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula. She says, “Employers may often overlook the impact of menopause on their female employees, but they do so at their peril. Whether out of embarrassment or ignorance, the signs that women are finding it difficult to work through severe physical effects of menopause may not be taken seriously. It’s clear that the practical result of a failure to act correctly is the prospect of more tribunal claims. With some menopausal employees classified as disabled, the consequences of failure to support women at this time in their lives are heftier.

“Women going through the menopause are protected from discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of their age, sex, or disability. However, many workers feel that current legislation does not go far enough to support and protect women in the workplace during this difficult time in their lives. As a result, many experienced and highly skilled women feel they have no choice but to leave their professions. An increased number are enforcing their rights through the employment tribunal, as latest figures suggest. These cases are bringing to the fore the reality of the treatment of women at work and the harassment they can sometimes face.”

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