As society begins to discuss more openly the impact of the menopause, what might this mean for our employment laws?
A new ‘protected characteristic’?
Presently, it’s not automatically unlawful for an employer to discriminate against its employees because they are going through the menopause. However, that’s not to say that the menopause plays no significant role in workplace disputes. On the contrary, the Menopause Experts Group (an online resource for menopausal women) conducted recent research in which they noted a 44% increase in the number of Employment Tribunal claims which materially involve the menopause. These cases are being argued in a variety of different ways, but it isn't hard to see how treating someone less favourably for reasons relating to the menopause could conceivably give rise to claims of sex, disability and even age discrimination.
Time for change?
Whilst some women are finding innovative ways of asserting their rights through the existing legal framework, others feel that action is required to improve the protection afforded to menopausal women. Some are calling for the menopause to be regarded as a ‘protected characteristic’ in its own right. Others have suggested a mandatory requirement for all employers to have a menopause policy or for the government to issue a statutory code of practice.
Even if legislative change is not forthcoming, is now the time for your business to consider proactively changing its approach to the menopause? Do your staff need training to understand the impact of the menopause? Are they looking out for the signs and symptoms and do they know how to react? Are they sympathetic to the needs of those going through the menopause? Do you need a menopause policy in order to establish obligations and expectations within your business?
Want to know more?
There’s quite a lot to think about here. If you would like to discuss this issue in more detail, please get in touch.