Menopause in the workplace
Menopausal women are the fastest-growing segment of the workforce and so understanding how you can best support your employees affected by the menopause in the workplace is an important consideration for any business looking to foster a positive and inclusive culture at work. It is also estimated that around one in six people currently in employment are women over 50, and so understanding (and avoiding) the pitfalls of ignoring or not treating workplace issues relating to menopause sensitively or seriously, could lead to major consequences.
Around 75% of women experience symptoms of the menopause, both physical and emotional, which affect women for an average of 4 years and can include (but are not limited to):
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Low mood
- Bladder problems
- Poor memory and concentration (brain fog)
- Muscles and joint pains
The symptoms are wide-ranging and, as well as the physical effects, can lead to lost confidence, sick leave and leave women feeling unable to fulfil their roles, leading them to leave in the prime of their career. With estimates that there have been 14 million working days lost in the UK because of menopause, there’s a clear and obvious business case for employers to do more.
The legal pitfalls are similarly stark – with growing numbers of Tribunal claims involving menopause or menopausal symptoms as part of their factual matrix. So, what are the legal risks? The main legal risk is a complaint for discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. There are currently 9 protected characteristics under the Equality Act which are:
- gender reassignment
- being married or in a civil partnership
- being pregnant or on maternity leave
- race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation
Menopause is not in itself a protected characteristic, and the government has confirmed that it does not intend to make it one. However, there are a number of protected characteristics that could be engaged in any particular case involving a menopausal women:
- Disability – severe menopausal symptoms could qualify as a disability, as could secondary impairments (e.g. depression);
- Sex – while some transgender men, non-binary people and intersex people may also experience menopause, in the main it will be women who experience menopause and so can pursue a discrimination claim in reliance on their sex;
- Age – menopause typically occurs in midlife with 51 as the average age of menopause in the UK and the US. Age may, therefore, also be a relevant protected characteristic.
The other legal risk for employers to be wary of is the potential for a claim for constructive dismissal if the individual going through the menopause and/or suffering menopausal symptoms is not provided with adequate support and/or is bullied / harassed for something related to the menopause or the symptoms.
- Suggest and/or accommodate adjustments for colleagues who are experiencing menopause and its symptoms. These adjustments may be simple changes such as the provision of a desk fan to alleviate discomfort, adjusted start or finish times on certain days. Some requested adjustments may be a little more difficult to accommodate, but nonetheless an employer should consider each request on a case-by-case basis, and where necessary, consider taking medical advice, and refer the colleague to other relevant workplace policies such as the sickness absence policy or flexible working policy.
- Introduce an accessible menopause policy – these policies are becoming increasingly common and can prove invaluable in: raising awareness of menopause and its impact in the workplace; encouraging open and receptive conversations between line managers and staff; and directing staff to relevant advice and assistance.
- Training – not just for line managers, but for everyone, including Board Directors, as it is an issue that affects everyone at work (and at home).
At Torque Law, we are experienced in drafting workplace policies and delivering workplace training. If you would like assistance or support in implementing a menopause policy, or any other workplace policies, or having any training requirements please don’t hesitate to contact us