Menopause breaking the taboo in the workplace
The Women and Equalities Committee survey in 2021 found that that nearly a third of women (31%) had missed work because of menopausal symptoms.
According to the NHS, the menopause is “when a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally.”
Unfortunately for those affected several side effects can accompany the physical change, this can include hot flushes, fatigue, memory loss, difficulty in concentrating, headaches, night sweats, low mood/anxiety, and insomnia.
It is easy to see how any or all of these side effects could impact upon the day-to-day life of those affected and how they could potentially give rise to performance, disciplinary and sickness absence issues for the employer. It is therefore imperative that employers review their practices and consider how they can best support their employees.
Currently, there is no menopause specific legislation. However, those suffering with menopausal symptoms can still be protected in other ways under the Equality Act 2010. (“EA”)
Employees suffering with menopausal symptoms could potentially bring claims against their employer for sex discrimination, age discrimination and potentially disability discrimination, if their symptoms are so severe that they can meet the definition of disabled under the EA.
Is the menopause a disability?
The menopause per se is not a disability that is protected under the EA, but if the symptoms are severe enough for a particular employee, then they may qualify as disabled. (The question to ask is, are the symptoms substantial, long term and do they have an adverse effect on their ability to carry out day-to-day activities?).
If an employee is considered disabled, this increases the employers’ obligations to her, and they then not only have a duty not to discriminate against the employee but also to consider implementing reasonable adjustments.
If you are not sure whether an employee is regarded as disabled, then you should seek both legal and medical advice.
Top tips for Employers
Employers should have a well drafted menopause policy which is communicated to both employees and managers. Businesses who implement a policy and communicate this to staff will help to eliminate the taboo surrounding the topic and will raise awareness of the issues being faced by a significant proportion of their workforce.
However, having a policy will only be able to go so far, and employers should also train their staff on the use of that policy. Training and open communication will encourage an open dialogue between employees and their managers and assist in addressing the issues before they become a problem for either the employer or the employee.
Training is also important in that it ensures that managers know the signs to look out for when managing employees dealing with the symptoms of menopause and how best to handle the conversations sensitively.
Once employers have opened that dialogue, they should consider what adjustments they can make for employees. Although the duty to make reasonable adjustments will only apply if the employee is regarded as disabled under the EA, employers do still have a general duty to protect their employees in the workplace and this could extend to considering adjustments.
Adjustments that employers could consider include amending absence trigger points, temperature control in the workplace, flexible working, and allowing more rest breaks. This list is not exhaustive, and employers are encouraged to have conversation with their employees to understand what adjustments they feel would support them.
Future changes in the law
Over the past few years there have been several claims in the Employment Tribunal relating to the menopause and its effects. The Judgments appear to show a clear propensity for Judges to find that women suffering with menopausal symptoms should be protected under the legislation, whether that be on the basis that their condition amounts to a disability or because of their age or sex.
The Women and Equalities committee however do not think that the current legislation goes far enough, and they have called for a consideration of whether further legislation needs to be enacted in this area.
The Menopause Support and Services Bill was introduced to Parliament in 2021 but was subsequently withdrawn. The purpose of the bill was to seek to improve menopause care in the UK in three main areas:
- The Workplace
- Women’s health strategy
Although the bill has been withdrawn Employers should still keep an eye on this developing area as it is likely that further legislation could be considered in future. It is also important that employers ensure that they are taking all the necessary steps to protect their employees at work and to avoid the pitfalls of potential employment tribunal claims.
Register your interest
To register your interest in an in-house training seminar for your Management Team or for assistance in preparing a menopause policy please email Sophie Robertson – sophie.robertson@Bermans.co.uk or view our leaflet with more details.