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Menopause in the workplace: A guide for employers

Menopause in the workplace has, until recently, been rarely discussed. It is now frequently appearing in the news agenda and the number of cases dealing with the menopause in the Employment Tribunal is increasing. With an ageing population, it is more likely your staff and so your business will be affected by the menopause. We look at how your business can become more menopause aware and how you can effectively support those experiencing menopause symptoms to maximise positive outcomes for your business.

What is the menopause and how could it affect your business?

The menopause generally effects women between age 45-55, trans people and those with variation of sex development and can cause various physical and psychological symptoms, over time. Symptoms which might affect your staff at work, are:

  • mood disturbances, anxiety, panic attacks and/or depression;
  • brain fog or memory loss;
  • loss of confidence and reduced concentration;
  • hot flushes;
  • sleep disturbance causing tiredness and irritability;
  • irregular periods at different times or lengths;
  • muscle and joint stiffness, aches and pains;
  • recurrent urinary tract infections; and
  • headaches.

If your staff are not sleeping well, are less able to concentrate or interact effectively with others, this can damage the effectiveness of your team. It may be that attendance and productivity at work are reduced in those experiencing menopause symptoms which is likely to have a negative knock-on effect to your business.

What are the benefits of making my business more menopause friendly?

Menopause is becoming more relevant in the workplace with over seven million women between the ages of 45-55 in the UK working population and this is rising. So, how can improved menopause awareness enrich your business?

  • Staff will feel more able to share struggles with menopause symptoms and be offered correct support at an early stage. This should enable staff to work more comfortably, thereby minimising any negative impact on your business.
  • It can avoid poor job satisfaction and commitment, high levels of sickness absence and increased desire for women experiencing menopause symptoms to leave work altogether. According to CIPD research, 53% were unable to attend work because of menopause symptoms, and only 18% felt able to tell their manager why they were really absent. Improving knowledge and communication about the menopause at work is inexpensive, but can help effected employees to continue working productively, inspire engagement and boost attendance.
  • It can avoid poor staff retention. In 2022, it was reported 80% of people going through the menopause are in work, one in four have considered leaving their job due to the menopause and one in ten have left work due to their symptoms. To avoid losing your top talent, having relevant and effective support for those experiencing menopause symptoms avoids you recruiting and retraining. Taking action to provide support also enhances your business’ reputation as an employer that cares about staff wellbeing.
  • Appropriate menopause support can also benefit your business when recruiting. ‘The Great Resignation’ following the Covid-19 pandemic meant in 2021 that 77% of business’ surveyed experienced problems finding and retaining staff. By stating what your health and wellness programmes are when recruiting, you can differentiate your business as an employer mindful of employee needs, which could help you secure the best talent.
  • Your business will get better value from benefits and support already in place, if these are adapted or directed to support those experiencing menopause symptoms. Healthcare insurance benefits, flexible working hours and Employee Assistance Programmes are all helpful. It is inexpensive to make current employees aware these benefits exist and how they can be accessed. Such support can inspire loyalty and incentivise employees to give their best.

How can I make my workplace menopause friendly?

Our article about things you could introduce to make your organisation more menopause friendly is here.

The menopause can have a debilitating effect on those suffering from its symptoms, and it is an issue which has been taboo for many years. It is therefore an issue to take seriously and one to approach with empathy and compassion. This is something that Avanti West Coast rail recently failed to do, with recent reports highlighting that Avanti sent menopause gift bags to all of their staff experiencing menopause symptoms. These bags included jelly babies in case they were tempted to bite someone’s head off, fans which would be useful for hot sweats, paperclips to help them keep it all together and a pencil to write down things you might forget. Approaching such a serious issue in a glib fashion has led to bad press for Avanti, and it is this type of conduct that could give rise to grievances or claims of discrimination. A good starting point is to create a comfortable environment where conversations about menopause are normalised and staff feel they can share issues and how these might be overcome.

A good starting point is to create a comfortable environment where conversations about menopause are normalised and staff feel they can share issues and how these might be overcome.

Having a nominated ‘Menopause Champion’, relevant links on your intranet, or a group holding regular meetings might be helpful, as well as your Employee Assistance Programme including menopause support. Occupational health could also be involved when appropriate.

Training managers to take concerns seriously and treat the menopause as a long-term health condition possibly requiring adjustments to hours, workload and location, is crucial. Practical and inexpensive support could be introduced to reduce discomfort relating to the menopause, such as access to:

  • bathroom facilities at any time
  • extra uniforms
  • sanitary products
  • good ventilation, fans or breaks to get fresh air.

A menopause policy can also be helpful to make clear to staff that menopause is on the agenda and to make those experiencing symptoms aware of available support. A written policy can also help managers minimise workplace disputes and potential employment claims.

What else do I need to know about menopause and the workplace?

  • Current guidance by ACAS sets out what the menopause is, how to support staff and implications of discrimination relating to the menopause. If you have specific questions, our employment solicitors can help.
  • July 2021 enquiry by the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) - the menopause will not be a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA), but a UK Menopause Taskforce (UKMT) will prioritise looking at impact of menopause on work and employment.
  • July 2022 Government policy paper - this encourages you as an employer to introduce a workplace menopause policy and work with the UKMT to improve support and open discussions around the menopause. If you would like assistance drafting a menopause policy, our employment lawyers can help.
  • Flexible working requests will become less onerous for all employees from April 2024, potentially benefiting those struggling with menopause symptoms.

Recent Employment Tribunal cases serve as a reminder that making errors in this area can be costly. Discrimination claims are uncapped in an Employment Tribunal and sex, gender reassignment, disability and age may all be relevant protected characteristics related to the menopause:

Mrs K Anderson v Thistle Marine (Peterhead) Ltd and James Duncan Clark – Mrs Anderson was awarded over £37,000 in compensation after resigning due to treatment by her boss at work whilst she was suffering heavy bleeding, anxiety and brain fog due to the menopause. Mrs Anderson’s symptoms meant she worked remotely when necessary, but her boss told her to ‘just get on with it’ and cut off her access to the company accounts system so she could not work remotely. The treatment and comments led to Mrs Anderson successfully proving constructive unfair dismissal, sex discrimination and harassment.

Rooney v Leicester City Council – the Employment Appeal Tribunal recognised that the menopause could amount to a disability. Whilst menopause itself isn’t a disability, some severe symptoms might constitute disabilities if someone experiences physical or mental impairment which have a negative effect on them carrying out their day-to-day activities for over 12 months. In this case, a Leicester-based social worker was disabled because of menopause symptoms and symptoms of stress and anxiety.

The main pieces of legislation relevant to the menopause are:

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 – as an employer you must, where reasonably practical, ensure everyone's health, safety and welfare at work. There is a duty on you to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of workplace risks. For groups particularly at risk, risk assessments and required adjustments need to be looked at, including investigating specific risks some staff may experience during the menopause.

Equality Act 2010 (EqA) – although the menopause is not a protected characteristic, if an employee or worker is put at a disadvantage and treated less favourably because of their menopause symptoms, this could be discrimination if related to another protected characteristic, for example:

  • Age - as menopause tends to occur between the ages of 45-55, less favourable treatment or being placed at a disadvantage because an employee is going through the menopause could be because of their age.
  • Disability - serious menopause symptoms that amount to a mental or physical impairment effecting ability to carry out day-to-day activities for 12 months or longer, may constitute a disability affording protection under the EqA.  If your employee or worker is disabled, you have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to reduce or remove disadvantages they might experience because of their disability. Awareness of symptoms, their severity and length is important when discussing whether and what reasonable adjustments need to be made. Guidance issued in February 2024 from the Equality and Human Rights Commission strongly recommends making adjustments, which may include reducing office temperatures, making a quiet space available and improving office ventilation. It also recommends considering flexibility to uniform policies to allow staff to wear cooler clothing when necessary and considering allowing flexible working.
  • Gender reassignment - if your employee or worker is going to or has reassigned their sex they will have protection from less favourable treatment or being placed at a disadvantage because of this. If menopause symptoms have been caused due to gender reassignment, this could afford your employee protection under the EqA.
  • Sex - as the menopause is a predominantly female condition, detrimental treatment of a woman related to menopause could represent direct or indirect sex discrimination. Additionally, unwanted behaviour about someone's menopause symptoms may count as harassment or sexual harassment.

Pitfalls to avoid

  • Confidentiality - ensure confidentiality is maintained, and dignity of your employees is protected. Consider a quiet and private space for conversations about menopause symptoms. Information should only be shared as the individual has consented, and to support and make adjustments for them.
  • Poor records or process - all meetings or discussions about menopause support should be documented so it is clear what has been agreed and why, reducing misunderstandings. If you have a written menopause policy this may reduce the risk of not following the correct process, but managers will need to be aware of and trained on the policy.
  • Employee-led discussion – employees should not be made to feel uncomfortable or pressurised to disclose things they do not want to. The employee should lead the conversation, with someone trained in this sensitive topic. Discussion with occupational health might be a more appropriate choice than a direct manager.
  • Discrimination – an individual should not be treated less favourably or placed at a disadvantage because of sex, gender reassignment, disability or age, which may be linked to the menopause. This is particularly important when considering performance management, capability or other processes to dismiss such as redundancy, or if an employee does not secure a promotion, bonus or other benefits.
  • Harassment – where language is used that ridicules women going through the menopause or makes them feel uncomfortable or humiliated, there is a risk of harassment claims. Recent cases where women have been teased, including being called a dinosaur and mocking their hot sweats, have led to their employers facing costly awards in the Employment Tribunal.
  • Consistency – employees may experience different menopause symptoms and so require different support, but so far as possible the offer of support and process to discuss and implement that support should be fair and consistently provided.
  • Breach of contract – if you do not follow contractual employment policies or if there is breached trust and confidence going to the root of the contract of employment, your employee could resign, treat themselves as having been constructively dismissed and bring an Employment Tribunal Claim. If you do not put in place effective policies, processes and training, you may worsen an employee’s condition, which could also be costly to your business’ reputation and could lead to a personal injury claim.

Conclusion

There is a strong legal case for taking the menopause seriously at work, but there is also a business case for providing an open and secure working environment where employees can discuss the menopause. Understanding how the menopause may affect people can help your employees support team members and assist your business to attract the best talent, retain that talent and make that team more productive, engaged and suffer fewer absences. The support measures often come at little financial cost but can make a significant difference to staff members experiencing menopause symptoms. Considering how conversations can be opened up, appropriate policies drafted, and support offered is a low-risk strategy which could have significant positive benefits for your business.

If you have any questions about the above or would like further details about what measures you could introduce to support those with menopause symptoms in your business, our employment team can help.

About our expert

Ella Bond

Ella Bond

Senior Employment Law Solicitor
Ella joined Harper James as a Senior Solicitor in January 2020, having previously worked at top 50 West Midlands law firm Shakespeares (now Shakespeare Martineau). Having qualified in 2007, she is highly experienced in the field of Employment Law, working with a vast range of clients from start-ups to large national and multi-national companies.


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