Menopausal or stressed woman holding her head

Menopause should be a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, say MPs

There have been renewed calls from MPs for the menopause to be a protected characteristic after a report showed talented women are being ‘haemorrhaged’ by employers.  Highly skilled and experienced women are being forced to leave as a result of employers’ lack of understanding and support for women’s menopausal symptoms, says the Women and Equalities Committee’s report, which is demanding the government amends the Equality Act and introduces menopause as a protected characteristic, to sit alongside the existing nine characteristics that include disability, age and sex. MPs have also raised the need for employers to provide reasonable adjustments for menopausal employees. There has also been a call to remove dual prescription charges for oestrogen and progesterone and to replace them with a single charge for those opting to have hormonal replacement therapy.

The UK workforce is made up of 4.5 million women aged 50-64 and the report has highlighted ‘a knock-on’ effect of women leaving work on the pension gap, gender pay gap and number of women in senior leadership positions.

The number of women leaving work due to menopausal symptoms is shockingly high, showing employers’ lack of empathy.  According to Bupa, 900,000 women going through the menopause have left work, whilst research has shown 43% of women are more likely to leave their job by the age of 55 compared to those not experiencing any symptoms.

As well as requesting menopause be considered a protected characteristic, it was also recommended to have a menopause ambassador who could liaise and collaborate with employers, unions and stakeholders. The ambassador would also aid with policy modelling to help introduce new guidelines with the aim of supporting menopausal women in the workplace. 

The report further recommends a specialist menopause service to be available in every clinical commissioning group. 

The key factors leading menopausal women to leave the workplace include discrimination, lack of support and stigma. The current law does not protect menopausal women and GPs are often unable to properly diagnose and treat the symptoms. 

The government has been called on to launch a consultation on the introduction of menopause as a protected characteristic, as well as create a public health campaign to educate on menopause symptoms. 

Caroline Nokes, MP, said:

“The omission of menopause as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act is no longer tenable, given that 51% of the population will experience menopause. Menopausal women have been mocked and maligned for too long. It is time that the government seizes the opportunity to enact change. It is time to support, and celebrate, these women.”

Head of employment at Edwards Duthie Shamash, and co-chair of the Discrimination Law Association, Colin Davidson, said:

“The government must listen to the committee’s proposals and act immediately to make the menopause a protected characteristic to prevent women from suffering harassment and discrimination at work simply for going through a natural part of their lifecycle.”

A spokesperson for the government added:

“The UK-wide menopause taskforce is seeking to end the taboos surrounding the menopause and considering the role workplace policies can play in supporting menopausal women, and the government’s health and wellbeing fund is helping expand and develop projects which support women experiencing the menopause to remain in the workplace. “