Key employment law updates | February 2023

Government responds to Menopause and the Workplace report

On 24 January 2023, the government published its response to the Menopause and the Workplace report, which was published by the Women and Equalities Committee (the Committee) in the summer of 2022. The report proposed greater protections for menopausal employees at risk of suffering "menopause-related discrimination".

Some of the primary proposals raised by the Committee included:

  1. Appointing a Menopause Ambassador
  2. Producing model menopause policies, in consultation with a large public sector employer
  3. Piloting a specific menopause leave policy
  4. Asking the government to legislate to make the right to request flexible working a day one right
  5. Recommending that HSE and ECHRC publish centralised guidance on menopause
  6. Consulting on making menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, including the duty to provide reasonable adjustments for menopausal employees

The government accepted the Committee's recommendation that the right to request flexible working should become a day one right (although this had already been agreed following a previous consultation). The government will also appoint a Menopause Ambassador who will report to and consult with DWP Ministers as well as working with the Women's Health Ambassador to focus on advocating for menopausal women.  

The government failed to commit to support the remaining recommendations including creating a model menopause policy to assist employers, piloting a specific menopause leave policy amongst large public sector employers, and making menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

While the government may not have accepted all the Committee's recommendations, the report may assist employers who are looking to provide menopause support in the workplace. Further, while the government may have rejected the recommendation to recognise menopause as a protected characteristic, employers should remain mindful that those going through menopause may fall within the definition of disability for the purposes of the Act, such that they will still be protected.

If you would like support with implementing specific menopause policies or training for your workforce, please do get in touch.

Mental wellbeing in the workplace

Figures from the Health and Safety Executive show an estimated 914,000 cases of work-related stress, depression, or anxiety in Great Britain in 2021/22 - that amounts to half of the work-related ill health cases in 2021/22, and a total estimated 17 million lost working days.

At present, employers are required to provide physical first aid training, but not mental health first aid training. A newly proposed law intends to change this by imposing a legal requirement on employers to provide mental health first aid training.

The new law has been proposed as a Private Members' Bill. These proposals rarely make it far enough to become law in practice, but they do highlight important social and political issues and can generate healthy discussions and solutions surrounding such issues.

Mental health first aiders are already commonplace within large commercial employers. They can be a valuable signposting resource for employees in need, and undoubtedly do offer valuable support to individuals in cases. However, research has cast doubt on the practical and direct impact mental health first aiders have on those colleagues facing a genuine mental health crisis. It is also important to remember that mental health first aiders are not trained mental health specialists and their welfare can be impacted by high-pressure situations involving colleague crises.

It is therefore important that mental health first aiders are seen as an ancillary tool, and not the "first line of defence" against workplace mental health issues.

Regardless of whether this Private Members' Bill ever makes it out of Parliament, employers should continue to support the mental wellbeing of their employees by looking at a wide package of support and protection. All businesses should regularly review their wellbeing strategy and identify new opportunities to increase or tailor the support they provide.

Government support for new Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Bill

This new Bill is currently making its way through Parliament, aiming to combat some of the problems that were first discussed in the Good Work Report of 2017. It will provide a right for workers with a minimum of 26 weeks' service, whose working pattern lacks "predictability", to ask for a more "predictable" working pattern.

An employer must deal with requests reasonably and must respond to a request within one month. An employer can reject requests, but only on the same prescribed grounds as a flexible working request.

A definition of "predictability" has not been provided but is expected to capture a wide range of workers who do not have defined or certain working hours. It is hoped accompanying guidance will be published alongside any new law. Watch this space.