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The House of Commons Women & Equalities Committee has established an inquiry that will investigate the level of discrimination that people going through the menopause face at work. As part of their investigations, the inquiry will scrutinise current legal protections offered to people who are going through the menopause, to determine whether further legislation offering additional protection is required.

Recent studies suggest that many people going through the menopause face great difficulties at work. One recent survey by the CIPD, for instance, discovered that three out of five (59%) respondents aged between 45 and 55 said experiencing menopausal symptoms had a negative impact on them at work, and a 2019 study by BUPA found that some 900,000 people had left their jobs as a result of the effects of the menopause.

Whilst there is currently no specific protection relating to the menopause enshrined in UK employment law, the provisions of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 extend to those suffering with the effects of the condition.

Additionally, protection from discriminatory treatment due to the menopause has been found to fall under the provisions of the Equality Act 2010. In Merchant v BT plc, for instance, an employer’s failure to take into account the effects of the menopause during a performance management process was found to be direct sex discrimination. In Davies v Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service, all parties agreed that the severe symptoms of the menopause on the claimant (in this case: heavy bleeding, feeling fuzzy and emotional and being severely anaemic, which affected her concentration levels) amounted to a disability for the purposes of a discrimination arising from a disability claim. In A v Bonmarche Ltd, an employee was found to have been subjected to harassment on the grounds of sex and age, after her requests to discuss issues around the menopause and to be provided with support to help overcome the symptoms of the condition went ignored.

As a result of the growing case law in this area, Acas published guidance on the menopause at work in 2019 which covered in detail the impact of the menopause on workers and offered a range of practical solutions for employers. The guidance looked at ensuring employers: offered adequate ventilation and rest areas in the workplace; considered the materials used in an organisation’s uniform and had easily accessible toilet and washroom facilities.

Generally, however, there are a number of simple steps employers can take to avoid difficult and/or potentially litigious situations arising. By making sure they have properly considered the potential effect of the menopause on their workforce, employers can address the situation in a pro-active and proper manner.

In the first instance, the effects of the menopause should be factored into any workplace risk assessments. Following that, practical steps can be taken such as developing comprehensive policies on the menopause, in consultation with staff. At the very least managers should be willing and able to have supportive conversations with employees who may be suffering from the effects of the menopause and consideration should be given to implementing reasonable adjustments such as flexibility with working hours or allowing homeworking where possible.

Whilst it’s clear there are some protections offered to people experiencing the menopause (and certainly lessons for employers to learn from the cases referenced above), it remains to be seen whether the Women & Equalities Commission will recommend further protections should be offered or whether the government will legislate to provide these. In any event, written submissions can be submitted to the Women and Equalities Committee inquiry until 17 September 2021.

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