The UK Government supports our calls to appoint a menopause ambassador and commit to a workplace communications campaign to create more menopause-friendly workplaces.

Some of the media reports suggested that the UK Government responded negatively to calls for greater workplace support related to menopause, following a report by the Women and Equalities Select Committee published in July 2022. Key recommendations included:

  • that the government should launch a consultation on how to amend the Equality Act to introduce a new protected characteristic of menopause, including a duty to provide reasonable adjustments for menopausal employees
  • that the government should work with a large public sector employer with a strong public profile to develop and pilot a specific ‘menopause leave’ policy
  • that HSE and EHRC should publish guidance on the legal considerations when supporting employees experiencing menopause. 

While the government has not committed to consulting on making menopause a protected characteristic or piloting a menopause leave scheme, prompting dismay in many quarters. However, the headlines don’t give the full picture.

Backing for two important menopause calls

In its response, the UK Government has backed two very important calls that the CIPD pioneered when we launched our Menopause Manifesto in Westminster in 2019. Back then, we called on government to:

  • Nominate a Menopause Ambassador to represent the interests of women experiencing menopause transition across government departments.  
  • Support an employer-led campaign to raise awareness of the menopause as a workplace issue.

In its response, the government has committed to appointing a Menopause Employment Champion, working with the Women’s Health Ambassador, Professor Dame Lesley Regan. 

We believe these two commitments will help to break down the taboo around menopause further in wider society and in workplaces, as well as galvanise and support employers to create positive change and menopause-friendly workplaces. A challenge with introducing mandatory policies is there is no one-size-fits-all approach in terms of what will have most impact in different organisations. Further, they can prompt a tick box, superficial response by some employers rather than engender long-lasting change. 

The government’s response also commits to greater education and training for healthcare professionals, which will be pivotal in supporting those individuals experiencing menopause as well as helping to retain them in the workplace. 

CIPD evidence 

The CIPD gave evidence to the Women and Equalities Select Committee as part of its evidence gathering for its report, as well as the Menopause All Party Parliamentary Group. For each of these oral evidence sessions we spoke about the importance of creating menopause-friendly workplaces and were quoted extensively. We also took a leading role in working with a range of organisations on a Ministerial 50 Plus Choices Task and Finish Group on Menopause. 

Making menopause a protected characteristic

On the issue of making menopause a protected characteristic we don’t accept, as the government has suggested, that such a legal change could discriminate against men with long-term health conditions. This seems like a strange rationale for not consulting on the issue, especially when there are already protections relating to disability. However, if menopause were to be included as a protected characteristic there would have to be some very careful thinking about the legal definition of menopause. 

Our view is that other action is needed before changes to legislation are considered, crucially a much improved enforcement of the existing provisions of the Equality Act. We know, for instance, that it is very clearly against the law for an employer to discriminate against a woman on the basis of pregnancy or maternity leave; however there is strong evidence from the EHRC that discrimination by employers against pregnant women and new mothers is still widespread.

The rationale for any new law is undermined if it cannot be enforced effectively. Therefore, we believe that much better enforcement of the Equality Act in its existing form should be the first priority which would in itself provide much better workplace protection from discrimination for women experiencing the menopause.

What’s next for our work?

We will look for opportunities to work with the Menopause Employment Champion, once appointed, and support the employer-led awareness campaign. This means inspiring our 165,000-strong membership to create menopause-friendly workplaces but also to influence change at a wider public policy and economy-wide level. There will also be opportunities to drive more change through the Women’s Health Strategy for England, published in July 2022, which calls out menopause as a key priority area.

Our aims also extend beyond domestic employment policy. For example, we’ve been invited to speak about creating menopause-friendly workplaces at a leading international menopause conference in Florence, later this year.  

About the authors

Claire McCartney, Senior Policy Adviser, Resourcing and Inclusion

Claire specialises in the areas of equality, diversity and inclusion, flexible working, resourcing and talent management. She has also conducted research into meaning and trust at work, age diversity, workplace carers and enterprise and has worked on a number of international projects. She is the author of several reports and articles and regularly presents at seminars and conferences.

Rachel Suff, Senior Policy Adviser, Employee Relations

Rachel Suff joined the CIPD as a policy adviser in 2014 to increase the CIPD’s public policy profile and engage with politicians, civil servants, policy-makers and commentators to champion better work and working lives. An important part of her role is to ensure that the views of the profession inform CIPD policy thinking on issues such as health and wellbeing, employee engagement and employment relations. As well as conducting research on UK employment issues, she helps guide the CIPD’s thinking in relation to European developments affecting the world of work. Rachel’s prior roles include working as a researcher for XpertHR and as a senior policy adviser at Acas.

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