Do we need menopause to be a protected characteristic?Jan 26, 2023
The UK government recently rejected a menopause leave trial and the classification of menopause as a protected characteristic due to fears it could cause "discrimination risks towards men suffering from long-term medical conditions, or erode existing protections" A step which caused outrage for many.
Taken at face value, I join the outraged. I do not believe that the protection of one group of people leads to the exploitation of another. When I consider the detail, rather than the headline, I am more supportive of the decision.
I suspect that the wrong arguments have been made, those lobbying could have chosen a different route.
Our existing legislation is strong, arguably stronger than the Equality Act that the government decided not to apply to the menopausal. We have had applicable criminal legislation in place since 1974. It requires employers to take reasonable steps to ensure the health and welfare of all employees.
Criminal legislation is enacted when there is a need to right a societal wrong. The consequence of non-compliance is punitive. In this case, there is the potential for employers to be fined, or to have other enforcement action taken against them.
I hope that by referring to existing protections, government has prompted the enforcement authorities for this long-standing legislation to produce menopause at work guidance. This could help organisations to manage menopause in the workplace as they would any other occupational health matter.
Maybe it is time for the focus of lobbying to shift to the existing protections referenced by those who are, on the face of it, refusing to support the menopausal workforce.
Alternatively, we may wish to consider the scope of the Equalities Act in greater detail – does the refusal to make menopause a protected characteristic make a difference?