Menopause at work
Why is the menopause a workplace issue?
At present, one in eight of the UK workforce is a woman over the age of 50. Given these figures, it is important that employers recognise that staff may need support, that they have the necessary policies and procedures in place and that they understand the relevant employment legislation. Schools, in particular, are affected, given the predominance of female workers in this sector.
Acas recommends that, in order to help employees feel supported, employers have a policy in place specifically for the menopause.
Parliamentary inquiry into the menopause at work
On 23 July 2021, the Women and Equalities Committee launched a new inquiry looking at whether existing employment legislation sufficiently supports women who are going through the menopause at work. The committee is considering the option to recommend adding menopause to the list of protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010.
Benefits of being an understanding employer
By creating an open and supportive workplace, employers could see an improvement in attendance, lower staff turnover and better staff engagement. An inclusive workplace will also help use the important skills and talents that staff of all ages can offer. In addition, by putting in place support and processes to help women experiencing the menopause, this will remove barriers to progression and could reduce the gender pay gap.
In addition to creating a positive culture, employers should treat the menopause as a workplace issue, because there are also legal considerations under:
- Health and safety regulations.
- The Equality Act 2010.
Employers should be mindful that the number of women bringing employment claims relating to the menopause has significantly increased. According to research reviewed by The Guardian, in 2019 only six cases made reference to the claimant’s menopause. By 2020 it had increased to 16 (an increase of 167%). Although the numbers are still low, it does appear that women are becoming more willing to raise issues with their employers and to make a claim to the tribunal if not resolved.
Health and safety
Employers have a duty to:
- Provide a safe place of work.
- Carry out risk assessments, in order to put in preventative actions for any risks identified.
- Provide proper facilities.
A risk assessment or action plan for staff affected by menopause could include considering:
- Temperature and ventilation.
- Rest areas.
- Access to cold drinking water.
If employers do not comply with the relevant health and safety regulations and an employee suffers further ill health as a result of working conditions not being adjusted, then this could result in a breach of the regulations and a claim.
The Equality Act
The Equality Act 2010 protects employees against discrimination. When dealing with a woman going through the menopause, the following could apply:
- Sex discrimination: the menopause is a condition affecting women, therefore, detrimental treatment of a woman related to the menopause could amount to direct or indirect discrimination.
- Disability discrimination: tribunals have found that menopausal symptoms can amount to a ‘disability’ as defined under the Equality Act 2010, which could therefore risk a disability claim. A disability can also trigger an employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments.
- Age discrimination: given that women over a particular age are more likely to be affected by the menopause, there is a risk of an age discrimination claim if employers do not consider how this staff group is treated.
- Age discrimination and harassment can also affect younger people going through an early menopause. Acas give the example of a colleague making a joke about young people going through the menopause – this could be age discrimination.
What can employers do?
- Review existing policies and processes – are they comprehensive enough to cover the menopause? If not, consider implementing a menopause policy.
- Raise awareness among staff of what the menopause is and how it can affect women at work.
- Ensure that the necessary training and support is in place for managers.
- Consider the approach used for sickness absence related to the menopause and focus on supporting individuals.
- For further guidance see Supporting staff through the menopause: Menopause at work from Acas and The menopause at work: guidance for people professionals from the CIPD.
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