The proposal to make menopause leave a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equality Act has been blocked by ministers in an effort to prevent discrimination towards men
An effort to change current UK legislation to protect better the rights of women experiencing menopause has been partially rejected, with ministers citing worries that the proposal for those needing menopause leave would discriminate against men.
What are protected characteristics, and why are they important?
UK-protected characteristics are a set of specified characteristics that it is illegal to discriminate against. As of the 2010 Equality act, these characteristics are protected in a number of different settings like work, education, when renting/buying property and more. As listed on the UK Gov website, here is a comprehensive list of current protected characteristics.
- Gender reassignment
- Being married or in a civil partnership
- Being pregnant or on maternity leave
- Race, including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
- Religion or belief
- Sexual orientation
Along with this, a person is also protected if they are associated with someone who has a protected characteristic or if they have complained about discrimination or supported another’s claim.
The effect of menopause in the workplace
2022 saw a survey of 1000 adults by the British Menopause Society on the effects of menopause in the workplace. The society found that “45% of women felt that menopausal symptoms had a negative impact on their work and 47% who needed to take a day off work due to menopause symptoms say they wouldn’t tell their employer the real reason.”
July 2022 saw the cross-part women and equalities part publish a report examining menopause and the workplace with a recommendation included to make menopause and menopause leave from work a “protected characteristic’.
Does giving protected rights to one group take away from another?
In the special report published by the UK Government on the 24th January 2023, it was decided that although “The government supports the aim underpinning this recommendation of ensuring that women are not discriminated against because of menopause [the] introduction of a new protected characteristic is not the only approach, or necessarily the best approach, to addressing risks of discrimination.”
According to the report, in an effort to “avoid unintended consequences which may inadvertently create new forms of discrimination, for example, discrimination risks towards men suffering from long-term medical conditions, or eroding existing protections,” they chose not to grant menopause protection.
This decision brings up a question many have been asking for years. Does granting rights to one group impede another?
Speaking to the Guardian, a government spokesperson said: “We recognise that the menopause can be a challenging time for women, which is why we have put women’s health at the top of the agenda as part of the first-ever women’s health strategy for England.”
“We are implementing an ambitious programme of work with the NHS to improve menopause care so all women can access the support they need. We encourage employers to be compassionate and flexible to the needs of their employees, and are committed to supporting more flexible working patterns – having consulted on making flexible working the default unless employers have good reasons not to’.
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