Is there change to menopause law on the horizon? Will any such changes cause potential harm to men?
The Government has recently published its Response to recommendations made in respect of policy changes surrounding Menopause and the Workplace.
One of the recommendations proposed was that: “...the Government should launch a consultation on how to amend the Equality Act to introduce a new protected characteristic of menopause, including a duty to provide reasonable adjustments for menopausal employees”.
The Government rejected this, on the basis that legislation to protect against menopause discrimination is already in place, on the bases of age, sex and disability. This is indeed correct, as many Tribunal cases have been brought under these heads with multiple successes. Interestingly, the most common is disability, as symptoms of menopause can be so significant that they meet the legal definition of a disability.
Instead, the Responses suggested that improving existing legislation in respect of disability and reasonable adjustments may be a better solution.
The controversial point of the Response, however, was at paragraph 96, in which the Response noted “...it is important to ensure that policy is considered in the round to avoid unintended consequences, which may inadvertently create new forms of discrimination, for example, discrimination risks towards men suffering from long-term medical conditions”.
This has, inevitably, been paraphrased across the media to portray the Response as saying that this change in legislation was rejected to prevent 'discrimination against men'. Of course, having read the full quote in context, it appears that the Government is instead making various points, two key ones being: (a) it is not necessary for protected characteristics to become so specific that individual “disabilities” are listed; existing legislation is equipped to deal with these claims, as evidenced by the successful claims that have already proceeded through the Tribunal, and (b) if menopause is listed as a distinct characteristic, then there is argument that other long-term symptomatic illnesses ought to be listed as protected characteristics too, including those suffered by men, and that they (and anyone, including women whose illnesses are not listed) would then be at a disadvantage as a result of the Government not having done so.
This position is, of course, significantly less controversial and therefore sells less papers (or should that be, attracts less “clicks”).
It appears likely that existing legislation can indeed handle the claims for discrimination arising from menopause, albeit, it may benefit from development in respect of the definition of disability; an employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments, and practical support for employers and employees in the workplace, to seek to reduce the existence of such claims and the reliance upon legislation in the first instance.
The Response did propose the following, which are likely to go some way to improving the current climate in respect of menopause and its impact on the economy:
Dissemination of quality information around menopause, such as public health campaigns, expert consultations and work with schools;
Introduction of a Menopause Employment Champion;
Mandatory training on menopause and improved professional development for GPs;
HRT PPC (pre-payment certificate) to reduce the cost of HRT; and
that flexible working will become a 'day one' right.
It appears from the Response that the Government recognises, or at least claims to recognise, the impact of the menopause and the lack of knowledge and access to knowledge at this time. It will become evident over the next twelve months, however, whether the Government makes good on its proposals to improve this.
In any event, there are many things that employers and employees alike can do to improve the situation in the workplace as it relates to menopause, menopause awareness and support for staff experiencing menopause.
If you have been treated poorly in your workplace on the basis of your menopausal symptoms, or simply wish to discuss this blog further, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0330 094 5245.