The chairwoman of the Woman and Equalities Select Committee of MPs has slammed the government’s dismissal of workplace menopause interventions for being discriminatory towards men as “grasping at straws”.
Committee chairwoman Conservative MP Caroline Nokes (pictured) told Health & Protection the government’s rejection of many of its proposals including workplace menopause leave pilots and making menopause a protected characteristic was “very disappointing”.
Nokes spoke to Health & Protection following today’s publication of the Conservative government’s response to the cross-party committee’s report on Menopause and the workplace.
Among the recommendations rejected was a proposal for government to work with a large public sector employer with a “strong public profile” to develop and pilot a specific menopause leave policy and provide an evaluation of the scheme and proposals for further roll out, within 12 months of commencing the scheme.
In response the government said it was focused on encouraging employers to implement workplace menopause policies, adding: “We are concerned that specific menopause leave may be counterproductive to achieving this goal.”
But government also rejected a prosposal from the committee calling on it to launch a consultation on how to amend the Equality Act to introduce a new protected characteristic of menopause, including a duty to provide reasonable adjustments for menopausal employees.
The committee said this consultation should commence within six months of publication of its report.
On rejecting this proposal, government argued doing so may lead to discrimination against men with long term conditions.
It said that given the importance of this legislation it was important to ensure the policy was considered in the round 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”.
However, it is likely that such long-term disabilities and health conditions would already be covered by existing workplace and disability equality laws.
Government did accept a proposal to appoint a menopause ambassador to work with stakeholders and encourage and disseminate awareness, good practice and guidance to employers.
But it rejected further recommendation that it should, in consultation with the new menopause ambassador, produce model menopause policies to assist employers.
These would have covered, as a minimum: how to request reasonable adjustments and other support; advice on flexible working; sick leave for menopause symptoms; and provisions for education, training and building a supportive culture.
A million women giving up work should be a priority
Speaking to Health & Protection this morning, Nokes described the government’s response as “very disappointing”.
“Most of our suggestions were low cost, practical and could have really helped keep women in the workplace,” she said.
“We know HM Treasury is currently looking at innovative ways to get the over 50s back into work, surely they would do better to consider trialling something like menopause leave to keep women working?
“I am sure the minister who responded has great commitment herself, but we need join up across government.”
Nokes added that she could not understand much of the government approach and that the recommendations would help stop women leaving the workkforce en masse.
“The Civil Service itself would be a great place to start, and I really don’t see why government is not prepared to provide a model menopause policy for employers,” she continued.
“As for their suggestion that some of our recommendations would be discriminatory towards men, it just makes them look like they are grasping at straws.
“Almost a million women have given up work altogether because of severe menopause symptoms, government should make them a priority.”