The Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee states that menopause could potentially become a protected characteristic under the Equality Act. 

MP and Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Caroline Nokes, has said changing legislation to protect and support women going through menopause should not be ruled out.

This comes as the Government recently launched an inquiry into the matter which seeks to scrutinise existing legislation and workplace practices to analyse if it is fit for purpose.

Some of the key questions it aims to answer includes understanding the nature and extent of discrimination faced by women experiencing the menopause.

The committee also wants to gain a better understanding of how companies can address workplace discrimination linked to the menopause.

Ms. Nokes reflected on the lack of clear legislation regarding the issue, making it difficult for individuals to take their cases to an employment tribunal:

One of the key messages coming through is that people don’t feel that they’ve got adequate recourse to tribunals, because they think the legislation isn’t clear enough.

We are hearing too many stories of people finding the most convenient mechanism to bring a claim for disability discrimination – the menopause isn’t a disability.

Despite this, recent research suggested that the number of menopause-related cases going to employment tribunals have been gradually increasing each year.

According to Dee Murray, whose company Menopause Experts carried out the research, this could become a “real problem” for HR teams if not adequately addressed.

In regards to legislation, Ms. Nokes added that the prospect of making menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act was being considered:

If the current legislation is working then great, but if it’s not working, and we’ve made maternity a protected characteristic, then do we need to look at making the menopause a protected characteristic?

The jury’s still very much still out on that [but] I really don’t rule it out.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula, added that this group are technically protected but that current legislation may not extend far enough:

Women going through the menopause are protected from discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of their age, sex, or disability.

However, many workers feel that current legislation does not go far enough to support and protect women in the workplace during this difficult time in their lives.

As a result, many experienced and highly skilled women feel they have no choice but to leave their professions. An increased number are enforcing their rights through the employment tribunal, as latest figures suggest. These cases are bringing to the fore the reality of the treatment of women at work and the harassment they can sometimes face.

Previous research from the CIPD and Bupa indicated that up to a million menopausal women have left their job due to these symptoms, leading to a significant drain in talent and loss of productivity for businesses.