Menopause and The Equality ActJan 26, 2023
We have heard a lot about the recent decision of the UK Government not to class menopause as a protected characteristic alongside the refusal to allow a trial of menopause leave.
I asked employment lawyer Martin Williams about the consequences of discriminating against a menopausal employee. My question and his answer date back to early 2022, long before the decision to exclude menopausal women from being specifically protected was made.
As Martin explains, the consequences of discrimination are not insignificant.
Menopause and the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA)
I, as an previous enforcer of relevant criminal legislation, continue to believe we are being distracted by leave and equality. We have long enjoyed protection under criminal legislation within the UK. The Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) has, since, 1974, required employers to take reasonable steps to ensure the health and welfare of their employees.
The consequences of not doing so may result in a prosecution being brought - as Martin, would say, ‘not a good look’. Not a good look indeed, not least because with prosecution comes a criminal record. The result of being found guilty may be a fine. The impact on the business, significant.
It may be that the enforcing authorities, HSE and Environmental Health departments have not published specific guidance and, in a post COVID world, they are unlikely to have the resources to do so.
The precedence for supporting menopausal women at work
I suggest that, instead of lobbying government to include menopause within the remit of the Equalities Act, we lobby to get the enforcers to issue formal guidance and be given a budget for enforcement. They are the big boys (and girls) armed with legislative big sticks – I don’t know why they wouldn’t be a first choice for those who want recognition and explicit protection.
The consequences of a proven breach of HSWA are harsh and the guidance is helpful – we have it for pregnant workers and I don’t recall that causing a fuss.
The precedence is set – shall we crack on?