Menopause Awareness Day 2023 and beyond – How can employers support menopausal employees?
Since 2009, the International Menopause Society and World Health Organisation have designated October as World Menopause Awareness Month, and 18 October as World Menopause Awareness Day.
The purpose of World Menopause Awareness Month is to “raise awareness of the menopause and the support options available for improving health and wellbeing”. This year, the focus for the month is the effect of menopause on cardiovascular health.
Cardiovascular symptoms are just one group in a list of over 30 recognised symptoms of menopause – the most common being difficulty sleeping, problems with memory and/or concentration and increased stress and anxiety. With a recent report from the Women and Equalities Committee revealing that 99% of women surveyed experienced at least one menopause symptom, it is easy to see how menopause can have wide-ranging knock-on effects at work.
Consideration then turns to how employers can support employees who are going through the menopause. Two thirds of women report being negatively affected at work and statistically, 1 in 10 will leave the workforce altogether. In our previous blog, we reported that employment tribunal cases relating to the menopause were seeing a steady increase. This trend appears to have continued, and the following three cases succinctly illustrate the kind of struggles menopausal employees are facing.
Farquharson v Thistle Marine (Peterhead) Ltd
Ms Farquharson had been employed for 27 years when she began to experience menopausal symptoms. Her symptoms included heavy menopausal bleeding, anxiety, loss of concentration and brain fog. When she made her manager aware of her symptoms, she was given a ‘disgusted look’ and it was implied that these were not good reasons to be absent from work. Her manager made specific comments to the effect that everyone experiences ‘aches and pains’ and she was using menopause as ‘an excuse for everything’. She raised a grievance and 7 days later had her access from all company systems locked. She was successful in a claim for constructive unfair dismissal and harassment on the basis of sex and was awarded £18,826.56 in respect of her unfair dismissal claim and £10,000 for injury to feelings (amongst other financial awards).
Lynskey v Direct Line Insurance Services Ltd
Ms Lynskey was employed for 6 years and achieved high performance ratings in her role. However, her performance began to drop when she started to experience menopausal symptoms. She attended her GP and was diagnosed with a hormone imbalance, depression and low mood. She provided her employer with detailed information about her symptoms and how they affected her. When her performance did not improve and after she received two customer complaints, her employer commenced disciplinary proceedings against her and refused to pay her enhanced company sick pay for periods of sick leave. She resigned and raised a claim for constructive dismissal, sex and age discrimination, failure to make reasonable adjustments and discrimination arising from disability. Her employer accepted that she was a disabled person in relation to her menopausal symptoms. She was successful in her claim for failure to make reasonable adjustments and discrimination arising from disability and was awarded a total of £64,645 in compensation.
Rooney v Leicester City Council
Ms Rooney was employed for 12 years when she had to take extended periods of sick leave as a result of her menopausal symptoms, anxiety and depression. She received a formal warning from her employer about these absences, despite disclosing her symptoms. When she did disclose her symptoms, she received ‘unfavourable treatment’ and ‘inappropriate comments’ in response. She felt she had no choice but to resign and make a claim for constructive dismissal (supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission). In February 2022, after an appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal on the point, a new Employment Tribunal found that she was a disabled person at all material times by virtue of her menopausal symptoms. This was the first Employment Tribunal to make such a finding. Her case is now set down for a 16-day hearing from 2 October 2023 to determine her substantive claims.
Common across all of these cases is that each employee has a significant, otherwise unblemished length of service with their employer; each had taken the time to disclose and explain their symptoms and the impact those symptoms had on their work; and each had been met with lack of support and inflexibility from their employer. This approach can prove to be costly for employers (both financially and in terms of losing valuable employees) as Employment Tribunals begin to build a body of case law relating to menopausal symptoms and their effect at work.
So, what can an employer do to support their employees?
Acas, as part of World Menopause Awareness Month, have highlighted their current guidance on menopause at work. This guidance discusses the effects of the menopause, how to talk to and support staff through the menopause, and where the parameters of the law currently lie.
Employers are encouraged to:
- have early and regular follow-up conversations with staff to understand their needs;
- ensure appropriate and up-to-date policies and procedures are in place;
- consider how a person’s job roles and responsibilities could be affected by their menopausal symptoms (and conduct a health and safety risk assessment if required);
- consider how best to manage any absence as a result of the menopause and whether reasonable adjustments may be required to allow a return to work;
- train managers to have knowledge of the menopause, its stages and effects and to know what support the organisation can offer employees; and
- avoid viewing menopause as solely a ‘women’s issue’: include all staff in conversations and training about the menopause.
Being proactive and progressive will assist employers in attracting and retaining talented and experienced staff. Having clear, but flexible policies and procedures will work to reduce absence and maintain (or even enhance) employee performance, as well as reducing any claims risk arising from stagnant policies or training.
The most important piece of advice to take from the guidance and the recent case law is to speak to employees and actively listen to their account of their experiences. A genuine attempt to support employees will not go unnoticed.
If you want to discuss how your organisation can support employees who may be going through the menopause or empower managers to offer such support, please get in touch with our specialist employment team.
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