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Considering menopause as a protected characteristic

The debate surrounding whether menopause should become a protected characteristic has gained more attention in the last couple of years due to investigations into women in the workplace. In particular, there are issues with employers struggling to retain female talent and females representing a significantly lower percentage of executive roles within the workplace. These investigations have raised questions as to why this is, and studies have shown that women are not getting the menopause support they need. Although symptoms attributable to menopause are somewhat protected through age, sex and/or disability discrimination, it is clear that this is not adequate (as argued by the Women and Equalities Committee). A recent study by Koru Kids has shown that more than one million UK women could quit their employment due to a lack of support in this area, with 63% of women reporting that their employer had no policies or access to support. There is an ongoing Menopause and Workplace Inquiry, with MPs hearing evidence on the topic this month to learn more on the issue and identify areas for change.

Of course, one of the stumbling blocks for employers and for the employee herself is to recognise the symptoms of the menopause. So it is important for employers to be ahead of the game and educate themselves. ACAS has published advice on Menopause at Work which offers practical advice on the area, which can be accessed here.

Given the uncertainty of whether menopause will become a protected characteristic, what can employers do now to ensure they are complying with their legal and moral obligations? It is recommended that employers take action by adopting policies and engage in clear communication with staff to ensure those affected feel supported. For example, by encouraging staff to approach management if they consider they have symptoms which may impact upon their ability to function or perform at work, allowing flexible working arrangements, allowing time off for appointments, implementing reasonable adjustments, adopting specific policies/procedures in respect to menopause-related absences, and generally encouraging a more compassionate and understanding approach.

Moreover, employers will want to ensure that once these internal policies are integrated, they are strictly followed to avoid the risk of any claims. Any policies will need to be publicised and accessible, and employers may wish to consider appropriate training of the workforce on the topic to avoid other claims. Without action, the consequences will not only be the possibility of costly and time-consuming claims, but also the loss of talent and/or productivity of the workforce, and potentially reputational damage.

For more information on the article please contact Hayley Marles and Amy Grant in our Employment Team.

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