Menopaused: proposed menopause leave trial rejected by ministers
Chelsey Stanborough – 6 February 2023
Menopause has been a rising concern in the past few years, as public awareness of its impact on the day-to-day lives of women increases. The Women and Equalities Committee released a report in July 2022 warning ministers of the damage a lack of menopause provision does to the economy, pointing out that it causes a number of industries to ‘haemorrhage talent’. In fact, recent data published by the committee showed that women who have experienced one problematic menopausal symptom at the age of 50 were 43% more likely to leave their jobs by 55 than those who didn’t. In response, a 12-point regime was put forward to improve the lack of support pushing women out of work.
This week, the government rejected five of the recommendations, including a pilot scheme for menopausal leave and an amendment to the Equality Act that would introduce a new protection for women suffering from the effects of the menopause. The government’s argument was that taking these steps would create unintended consequences and new forms of discrimination. Amongst which, it was suggested, a means of discriminating against men suffering from long-term medical conditions.
Employment lawyers will often find themselves working on unfair dismissal and discrimination cases, where employees have been discriminated against on the basis of characteristics protected by the Equality Act - race, religious or philosophical belief, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age. Along with public perceptions, the way the menopause is treated in law is changing. In one recent case (A v Bonmarché 2019), a claimant was successful in an age and sex discrimination claim brought against their employer over ‘humiliating and demeaning’ behaviour from her manager when her work was affected by symptoms of the menopause. But some have raised concerns that to ‘pathologize’ the menopause through these protected characteristics creates a negative narrative of older women.
So, what does this mean for women in the workplace? Without specific protection policies, the menopause is likely to remain a grey area. According to government figures, women over the age of 50 represent the quickest growing cohort of the workforce, with 4.5 million women aged 50-64 still in employment. The continued impact of the menopause on this group makes it unlikely that these issues will fall out of the public sphere. For lawyers working in the space, menopause cases could begin to form an increasingly prominent part of practice, as we begin to understand its impact on the UK economy.