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Menopause in the workplace

View profile for Luke Brown
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Menopause can cause a variety of symptoms which affect a woman’s day-to-day life, and these symptoms can last for years. 

This in turn can affect a woman’s work life whereby they may be unable to fulfil certain expectations that the employer has of them, for example, if a woman is feeling tired and fatigued, suffering from memory loss and other medical conditions due to symptoms of menopause, she may not be able to achieve targets that she once was able to achieve.

Tackling the obstacles that come with menopause can help create a better working environment for all workers and can assist employers with avoiding and mitigating potential claims that may arise through the treatment of an employee who is suffering with menopause.

Symptoms of menopause may cause physiological and physical consequences that meet the definition of disability under the Equality Act (2010), with a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities.  This entails that it could be possible for a woman to meet the definition of disability under employment law, which makes an employer susceptible to direct and indirect disability discrimination claims, either by unfavourable treatment, by a failure to make reasonable adjustments or even a provision in place that disproportionately affects women.

The Equality Act prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex, whether directly, indirectly or by harassment.  An example of sex discrimination could arise where an employer refuses to acknowledge that the symptoms a woman is suffering due to menopause are mitigating factors in reviewing performance, whereby similar symptoms arising through another condition which would be acknowledged as a mitigating factor for male workers.  This is known as unfavourable treatment due to a protected characteristic (e.g. sex, disability, age). 

Also, as menopause is usually suffered at a certain age, detrimental treatment could give rise to an age discrimination claim against an employer.

As all employers should be aware, they are obliged to ensure that they look after the health and safety of their workers by virtue of the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974).   This includes women who are experiencing menopause.  Ensuring the health and safety of women suffering from menopause can be met through processes such as carrying out appropriate risk assessments which focuses on symptoms suffered.  Attention should be paid to matters such as ventilation to avoid over-heated conditions, toilets, and access to water (this is not an exhaustive list).

Consideration should also be given to those whose relatives, spouses, or are care givers to women suffering from menopause as those people may too be suffering from e.g. lack of sleep.  However, it will not afford these people the abovementioned discrimination and health and safety protections.

The ACAS guidance provides guidance for employers on ways to manage menopause at work.  For example:

  • Create and implement a menopause policy.
  • Provide training for managers to deal with any concerns in a sensitive and confidential way.
  • Encourage changing the working environment, such as working hours, or hybrid working, or the workplace itself.
  • Signpost the range of support services and advice available.
  • Encourage employees to engage with their GPs.
  • Offer support from occupational health.
  • Carrying out health and safety checks and risk assessments
  • Managing sickness absence and job performance
  • Having menopause and wellbeing champions
  • Give staff the option to have private conversations with nominated persons about how menopause is affecting them at work and how they could help.

https://www.acas.org.uk/menopause-at-work

Menopause should be treated with a high level of sensitivity and confidentiality.  A recent case concerning Leigh Best was successful in bringing a sex harassment and age discrimination case against her former employer due to her manager shouting ‘[she] must be in her menopause’ in public in front of customers.  This is an example as to why providing training to all staff is key in managing a better workplace environment for employees and employers alike.

The Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) commissioned a survey as part of its inquiry to menopause in the workplace.  WEC found that nearly a third of women (31%) that were surveyed have had missed work because of their symptoms and only 11% of women surveyed had asked for workplace adjustments.  25% of the women surveyed had not asked for adjustments due to a concern of how others would react, and 19% of those women surveyed did not know who they could speak to about the adjustments.

WEC has confirmed the solutions for workplace adjustments relating to menopause are in easy reach for many employers, which includes flexible working, temperature control and stopping “banter” relating to menopause in a the workplace as this can have an adverse effect on those who suffer with menopause. 

A survey has revealed that 72% of employers do not have a menopause policy in place, and that only 16% of employers train their line-managers on the topic of menopause.  As would be apparent from the case of Leigh Best, a large proportion of employers are susceptible to the possibility of a claim due to an untoward comment, whether it is intended to be malicious or “banter”, from an employee to another.

We would always advise employers to not only to seek advice on how to better protect their employee’s wellbeing who are suffering with menopause, but to also safeguard your business from potential claims arising out of menopause in the workplace by putting in appropriate measures to protect both you and your employees.  If you would like assistance with creating and implementing a menopause policy, please contact one of our employment law specialists at www.biscoes-law.co.uk, or on 02392 660261