EMPLOYERS cannot afford to lose sight of their need to support menopausal staff despite the UK Government dismissing a move to make the menopause a protected characteristic, a lawyer has warned.
And Kate Wyatt, a Partner in the Employment Law team at Scottish legal firm Lindsays, says progressive businesses will go beyond what’s required legally to ensure they do not risk losing colleagues – including senior employees “at the top of their game”.
She spoke after news emerged about ministerial rejection of the protected characteristic recommendation made by Westminster’s Women and Equalities Committee.
A suggestion to pilot “menopause leave” was also dismissed.
Ministers had been asked to consider the steps following a report by the Committee last year which said the lack of support for menopausal staff was causing the economy to “haemorrhage talent” from staff who feel they have to leave their jobs.
While the menopause itself is not a protected characteristic, discrimination claims can still be made in certain circumstances under age, sex and disability discrimination laws.
Ms Wyatt said: “Menopause is not the Cinderella issue it was even just a few years ago. It now has real prominence. It’s not an issue employers can afford to hide from.
“While the menopause itself may not be a protected characteristic, employers who do not provide the required support could still find themselves facing a discrimination claim. The Government’s decision does not mean employers have no obligations.
“Indeed, as more employees become aware of their rights, the need for employers to be aware of their obligations, take advice on them, and act has never been greater.”
Under the Equality Act 2010, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments where workplace practices place those with disabilities (as legally defined) at a substantial disadvantage. This may include women experiencing menopause symptoms.
Failure to accept the severity and impact of symptoms on the sufferer can also lead to claims and uncapped compensation awards.
Ms Wyatt has contributed to a number of awareness raising events on the menopause at work, including those by Perth-headquartered charity Menopause Cafe.
She added: “A growing number of employers have menopause policies which go beyond what’s required by law.
“These undoubtedly help them keep experienced and able employees, often in senior roles and at the top of their game but who also find themselves affected by menopause.
“These employees are effective, efficient and, with just a little support, they will remain that way rather than businesses losing a valuable resource, in part or altogether. There are knock-on benefits to retaining such staff, including better gender pay gap figures and meeting diversity and inclusion goals.”
Steps employers can take to reduce and manage risk include training to increase awareness of the symptoms and effects of the menopause. They can also offer support such as allowing personalised temperature control in the workplace, reviewing uniform requirements or making adjustments to absence management triggers.
The Equality Act 2010 is a UK-wide law.