The Women and Equalities Committee has criticised the government’s response to its report on menopause and the workplace published last year, calling it “a missed opportunity to protect vast numbers of talented and experienced women from leaving the workforce”.
In its response issued last week, the government rejected five of the committee’s twelve recommendations outright, including one to consult on making menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. This, it said, was in order to “avoid unintended consequences which might create new forms of discrimination such as discrimination risks towards men suffering from long-term medical conditions or eroding existing protections”.
It also rejected the recommendation to pilot a specific menopause leave policy on the basis that a lot of work was already planned or was already being carried out to raise awareness and educate individuals, healthcare professionals and employers.
It has, however, agreed to appoint a Menopause Employment Champion who will be a Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) ministerial appointment, focusing on issues specifically affecting employers.
It has also agreed that guidance being developed by the Health and Safety Executive to provide employers with clear and simple principles to support disabled people could also apply to workers experiencing menopausal symptoms.
In a letter to the government, the chair of the committee, Caroline Nokes, expressed concern that it had “ignored the significant evidence base” for equality law reform and called for a review of its position. The Committee also highlighted the low cost but high impact opportunities for model workplace menopause policies and menopause leave, which the government had also dismissed.
In the letter, the committee highlighted that it was also “extremely disappointing that the Menopause Taskforce has not met since prior to the summer recess, and that the industry roundtable on HRT supplies has been delayed a number of times".
The committee’s report, published in July 2022, argued that the overlooked impact of menopause is causing the UK economy to 'haemorrhage talent'. It also argued that the current law does not sufficiently protect women experiencing menopause and does not offer proper redress to those who suffer menopause-related discrimination, given that so many have to demonstrate that their menopausal symptoms amount to a disability in order to get some redress.
Though the government said it has accepted, partly accepted or accepted in principle six of the recommendations, the committee has criticised its response for not actually committing to any new work in relation to its report.
Thompsons’ regional employment rights manager and solicitor, Rachel Ellis, comments that: “The government’s response to this report is deeply disappointing. Awareness alone will not remove the inequality and disadvantage women face in the workplace due to menopause issues. The government’s opposition to seemingly any increase in workers’ rights on their watch is typified by their weak response and lack of meaningful engagement on an issue that impacts on a significant percentage of the working population."
To read the government’s response, click here.
To read the committee’s report, click here.