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Menopause in the workplace

Menopause in the workplace

Let’s pause and think about the menopause.

As with many subjects which at one point seemed too “taboo” to discuss in the workplace, the menopause, and its symptoms, have started to shift the conversation in workplaces across the country.

Managing the effects of the menopause at work is essential for both employers and their staff. Menopausal women are the fastest growing demographic in the workplace. However those going through it often feel as though they must do so quietly and behind closed doors. This piece looks to provide readers with a better understanding of the menopause, considers the impact that it has on the workplace, the legal obligations of employers and how they can lead the way in helping their staff affected by the menopause.

The menopause is a natural stage of life which affects around half of the population. This can include:

  • women
  • trans people – 'trans' is an umbrella term used to describe people whose gender is not the same as the sex they were assigned at birth
  • intersex people – some people prefer the term 'differences in sex development' (DSD)

The menopause usually happens between 45 and 55 years of age but it can also happen earlier or later in someone's life.

There are 3 different stages to the menopause:

  • perimenopause
  • menopause
  • postmenopause

Some people might also experience early menopause or go through surgical menopause earlier in their lives. These types of menopause can be medically complicated, so employers should consider this when supporting their staff.

It is important to note that the menopause is not just one event and is not simply “hot flushes”; it can be series of symptoms which can have a potentially debilitating impact on those going through it. Symptoms such as brain fog, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, mood swings, headaches and hot flushes are just some of the things women are facing, all whilst being expected to carry on with their lives and work as though nothing has changed. And while there will be many women who sail through the menopause, there will be others for whom the transition will be far more complicated.

Menopausal symptoms can be personal and sometimes embarrassing, and CIPD research has shown that almost a million women have left their job because of menopausal symptoms. Others are forced to take long term absences, and others are subject to performance or misconduct processes as a result of symptoms seeping into the workplace, with little understanding of these. However, with being an ageing population, it is imperative for organisations to look at how they can support their older workers, ensuring an understanding and supportive network for those going through the menopause is one way for them to do so.

The legal position for employers is not clear cut when it comes to the menopause. Employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety of its employees, as well as a duty the duty of trust in confidence which sits between employees and employers and it works both ways, but essentially an employer must not breach the trust that staff have placed in them. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is that employers have a duty to protect their staff from discrimination.

Currently, if a women was to bring a discrimination claim under the Equality Act 2010 as a result of mistreatment because of the menopause, they are only able to do so on the grounds of age, sex of disability, as the menopause itself is not a standalone protected characteristic. There have been a few cases recently which have dealt with the manner in which employers have treated staff with menopausal symptoms, and this number is likely to increase over the course of the next few years.

In July 2021, the Women and Equalities Committee announced an inquiry into workplace issues connected with the menopause, and whether the current legislation is sufficient to protect those experiencing discrimination. The result of the inquiry is expected later this year.

In February of this year, an employment tribunal awarded an employee £20,000 after she successfully claimed she was unfairly dismissed and discriminated against because her male employer shouted at her and said “she must be on her menopause” after there was a mix up with an order. The employee said she felt “humiliated” because of how she was spoken to.

So what should an employer do at this stage? To start with, they need to be proactive and lead from the top; provide training so that there is an internal understanding of the condition and its impact and have an empathetic approach. As we have seen with the above case, the use of language can be inflammatory, offensive and costly, and therefore this should be addressed and dealt with in the same way any other derogatory language would be in the workplace.

Employers should also provide physical adjustments where required: desk fans and access to breakout spaces for example. The past 2 years of home working, and now hybrid working, have been good for those going through the menopause and experiencing symptoms. Employers should continue to provide the ability to work from home if this is a suitable adjustment for anyone experiencing either physical or mental symptoms. As with a lot of employment matters, introducing a policy shows that the organisation takes the menopause seriously, and will provide a level of support for those going through it.

If you have any questions, or wish to discuss this article, please contact a member of our team or connect with us on Twitter: @TCYEmployment.

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Written by : Marianne McJannett