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New guidance confirms menopause symptoms can be a disability

27 February 2024

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has issued new guidance for employers about menopause in the workplace.

The key take-away from the guidance is that menopause symptoms can be considered a disability if they meet the legal threshold, i.e. if they have a long-term and substantial impact on a woman’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. This means employers may come under a duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees experiencing menopause symptoms. They will also have a legal obligation not to discriminate against such employees.

Women experiencing menopause symptoms are also protected against discrimination, harassment and victimisation on the grounds of their age and sex.

This guidance follows the government’s rejection of calls to make menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 last year. The government response to recommendations put forward by the Women and Equalities Committee notes that sex, age and disability discrimination law provide adequate protection for menopausal women, something which the EHRC guidance now emphasises.

There is an increasing focus on how menopause affects women’s working lives. The EHRC guidance notes that two thirds of working women between 40 and 60 years old with experience of menopausal symptoms report a mostly negative impact on them at work, with one in ten women leaving work due to menopause symptoms.

This guidance has been published only days after train operator Avanti West Coast was widely derided for handing out gift bags to menopausal women which included a jelly baby “in case you feel like biting someone’s head off” and a paper clip “to help you keep it all together”.

The confirmation that equality law provides protection for those experiencing menopause symptoms is a welcome one, and the EHRC guidance is hopefully part of a larger trend towards recognising and accommodating a wider range of conditions in the workplace, with similar steps forward being seen in areas such as neurodivergence, where a handful of recent claims have demonstrated the need for employers to go beyond merely accommodating the most ‘obvious’ cases of disability.

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