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International Womens Day - four key updates in employment law

The campaign theme of International Women’s Day this year #BreakTheBias. With this in mind we summarise four key areas where new or upcoming changes in employment law will have an impact on employers and the steps they should take to counter gender bias in the workplace.

Menopause protection

Insomnia, fatigue, light-headedness, confusion, stress, depression, anxiety, palpitations, memory loss, joint pain, migraines and hot flushes…. all of these were cited by Ms Rooney as symptoms of menopause which had affected her at work in the case of Rooney v Leicester City Council. Following its October 2021 hearing, the EAT found that the original tribunal had wrongly decided that Ms Rooney’s menopausal symptoms and the impact of them on her ability to carry out day to day activities did not amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010. A fresh tribunal is due to reconsider the claim this year.

Ms Rooney’s case gives a clear steer that individuals suffering symptoms of the menopause can qualify as disabled under equality law and so benefit from the resulting enhanced protections. This decision comes hot on the heels of the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee launching an inquiry into workplace practices around the menopause. They are considering whether enough is being done to prevent employees from leaving their jobs as a result of menopausal symptoms, or suffering other adverse consequences. The inquiry ambitiously aims to reshape policies to address gender equality and the nature and extent of the discrimination faced by employees experiencing the menopause.

Gender pay gap reporting regulations

The 2022 gender pay gap reporting deadline is fast approaching. Public sector employers with 250 or more employees must report by 30 March 2022, and private sector employers with the same number of employees must report by 4 April 2022.

The Government strongly advises that employers produce an accompanying narrative to the report, which can provide context, explain any pay gaps, and set out what actions have been taken to address gaps. Action plans are also encouraged to let people know what action employers are planning to take to address the pay gap, and to indicate that they are serious about doing so.

Further, by April of 2022, the Government is due to review its current gender pay gap reporting regulations, five years after they first came into force. Some potential changes include extending the reporting obligation to smaller employers, with a view to increasing transparency, requiring more forensic reporting, such as breaking down statistics into pay quartiles and introducing enforcement measures, such as a fine for employers who fail to publish their statistics, or employers who publish inaccurate statistics.

Sexual harassment in the workplace

The Government has confirmed that a new duty for employers to actively prevent sexual harassment and third-party harassment will be introduced. This is likely to include a defence if an employer has taken “all reasonable steps” to prevent the harassment. It is anticipated that the Government may also extend the time limits for claims under the Equality Act 2010 from the current three-month period to six months. Draft legislation on this is anticipated this year.

Extended redundancy protection

Currently, employees who are on maternity leave when their role is made redundant have the “right of first refusal” to suitable alternative employment. It has been announced that this right will be extended further. When introduced, the extended protection will apply to pregnant women from the point they notify their employer of their pregnancy until six months after they have returned to work, and will also apply to those taking adoption leave and shared parental leave.

If you have any queries relating to these changes, please contact Ingrid Hesselbo.

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