Occupational Requirements: Appointment of a Male Ambassador for Period Products Scheme
Key Contact: Claire Knowles
Author: Saskia Musacchio
Amidst the recent ground-breaking announcement that Scotland has become the first country to offer free period products, the appointment by Scottish counsel of a male ambassador to be the ‘Period Dignity Officer’ has sparked controversy.
The job description for the role of Period Dignity Officer expressly states that the job involves aiding “in the implementation of the Period Product Act” and that the chosen candidate would have “a successful track record of engaging and empowering a large range of people from a diverse range of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, in particular young people who menstruate”. Critics have suggested the role should be performed by a woman as only persons with female sex organs can truly understand and appreciate what it is to menstruate or go through the menopause. This would then enable them to best engage and empower people who menstruate.
The law expressly permits an employer to discriminate lawfully in limited circumstances under the Equality Act 2010 (EA). One of the ways this is permissible is via the general occupational requirement exception, which applies (amongst other matters) to the issue of recruitment. To rely on this, an employer must demonstrate that, having regard to the nature or context of the work:
- being of a particular sex, race, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation or age is an occupational requirement; and
- applying the occupational requirement is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
One could potentially argue that since this role entails a level of detailed knowledge and understanding on a topic that only persons with female sex organs ever experience, that being a woman is crucial to the post and therefore an occupational requirement. The legitimate aims might be to ensure that services and benefits are targeted towards those who most need them (those who menstruate / experience the menopause) and to ensure the dignity of those using the service (young girls at a vulnerable stage of development and women). This is because the main goals of the role are to aid in the implementation of the Period Product Act and to engage and empower people who menstruate. One may argue that these legitimate aims represent a real objective consideration, and that the measure of only enabling this role to be open for women is reasonably necessary in order to achieve such legitimate aims.
On the other hand, it could be suggested that enabling the role of Period Dignity Officer to be performed by a man opens up benefits of its own. Stereotypically taboo subjects, menstruation and the menopause can perhaps now be more openly and widely discussed across all genders. Perhaps any stigma that such topics can only be understood or appreciated by women can be erased.
A case which is currently grappling with a similar situation is the case of Ramos v Nottinghamshire Women’s Aid Limited (Women’s Aid). Mr Ramos, a male, has brought proceedings against Women’s Aid in respect of what he considers to be a sexually discriminatory job advertisement. The job specification stated that Women’s Aid required a “Female Finance and Admin Worker”. At a preliminary stage hearing, the employment judge refused to grant Mr Ramos’ application for a deposit order against Women’s Aid on the basis that he was not satisfied that by relying on an occupational requirement to have a female employee in the advertised role, Women’s Aid would have little prospects of defending the claim. Although the case has not yet gone to a final hearing, it serves as an indicator that, in some cases, occupational requirements to be of a particular sex may be exercised successfully.
If you would like further advice on any of the topics covered, please contact the Acuity Employment team.