On May 12, 2021, Channel 4 aired a documentary with host Davina McCall giving a candid account of her own experiences of menopause and explored the impact it can have on women at work.
Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development indicates three out of five working women between the ages of 45-55 experience menopausal symptoms and say it has a negative impact on them at work. Harrison Drury’s employment law team offers guidance for employers to support women at work during menopause.
What is the menopause and what are the effects?
The menopause is a natural part of a woman’s ageing process as her periods cease. There is a wide scope of ‘normal’, but it usually begins between the ages of 45 – 55. As a woman ages, there is a natural reduction in levels of oestrogen and progesterone hormones that lead to the perimenopause. This can last anywhere from a few months to several years. Once a woman’s periods have ceased for 12 continuous months, she is deemed to have reached the menopause.
With declining hormone levels comes varying range of side effects, including both physical and mental symptoms, such as hot flushes, night sweats, headaches, confusion, difficulty sleeping and low mood or anxiety. These side effects can be felt during the transition to menopause and can last for several years afterwards. Symptoms can vary in severity from one woman to another.
Is the menopause classed as a disability?
While the menopause is not explicitly covered under the Equality Act 2010, employers can face unfair dismissal claims and claims for sex, age or disability discrimination if issues relating to the menopause are not handled properly.
With regards to disability discrimination, the law requires that a condition must have a physical or mental impairment which has a long-term adverse effect on an employee’s ability to carry out their day-to-day activities. Menopausal symptoms can be apparent over several years and cause varying symptoms of varying degrees.
Whether symptoms of the menopause are considered a disability depends on how an individual woman is affected at the time. It is important therefore to consider each individual’s symptoms and how they are affected by them on a case-by-case basis. Reasonable adjustments must be made to accommodate any symptoms and failure to do so may result in a discrimination claim.
Sex and age discrimination in the workforce
As the menopause affects women and usually women between the ages of 45 – 55, an employer must ensure that any working practices do not have a negative effect on women of a menopausal age. If the women are negatively impacted, this may result in claims for sex and/or age discrimination.
In A v Bonmarche Ltd, the claimant was going through the menopause and the claimant’s manager would bully her for this, referring to her as ‘a dinosaur’. Ultimately the claimant resigned from her role due to the bullying and harassment. The claimant successfully brought claims for sex and age discrimination.
Employers should also make adjustments, if appropriate, for women experiencing menopause when it comes to matters such as performance management, sickness management and even dress code policies. Due to the wide range of effects the menopause can have, such as fatigue and hot flushes, employers need to be aware of these conditions and support employees wherever possible.
How can women going through the menopause be supported?
While a small number of women will experience little or no symptoms of the menopause, a significant number of women will, and with symptoms lasting up to 15 years in some instances, it can be quite debilitating.
The menopause is still a taboo subject among workplaces, so how can women be supported at work during this significant, and potentially challenging time of their lives?
To understand how to mitigate any issues, we first need to look at the problem facing women in the workplace. Research conducted by YouGov on behalf of CIPD suggests that over half of women during menopause feel less patient with clients and colleagues and experience more stress in the workplace. Nearly two thirds of women report that they find it more difficult to concentrate at work.
Given the effect the menopause can have on female workers, employers need to be aware and act appropriately to support their employees.
Further considerations employers need to make surround sickness absence and the privacy of their employees. Nearly a third of women take sick leave due to the menopause, with only a quarter of them feeling able to confirm the real reason for their absence. Employers should strive to create a workplace environment that is comfortable, with open communication where appropriate.
A few simple changes to the workplace can have a positive effect and reduce the impact of some of the symptoms. Offering open communication about the menopause and its effects, and promoting inclusivity, can ensure that women experiencing menopausal symptoms feel supported.
Employers should consider having tailored policies surrounding the issues that affect woman’s health (including menopause); carrying out risk assessments to ensure that the working environment supports the needs of women suffering with symptoms of the menopause; and providing training for managers to help them understand menopausal symptoms and the necessary adjustments that may be required.
To discuss how you can support female employees at work during menopause, or for advice on preparing suitable employment policy documents, please contact Harrison Drury’s employment and HR team on 01772 258321.