In recent years, there has been a much-welcomed growing awareness of the topic of menopause which has been, in part, brought about as a result of increased media coverage. Earlier this year, well-known TV presenter Davina McCall investigated how menopause can affect the mind and body in her Channel 4 documentary ‘Sex, Mind and the Menopause’, which placed a particular emphasis on how symptoms might affect women at work.
In a survey produced by the Fawcett Society, 10% of women reported leaving their jobs because of the menopause. It’s estimated that, when applied to the population, this could be the case for as many as 300,000 workers in the UK. The survey of 4,000 women was the largest to date and revealed a general feeling of lack of support and failure of employers to dispel the taboo surrounding menopause at work.
Menopause has some frequently-cited symptoms such as hot flushes and brain fog but there are more than 30 possible symptoms from which women may suffer. Some of these potentially have a significant impact on the affected individual’s ability to work effectively. For example, brain fog may decrease concentration and overall productivity. As a result, the Fawcett Society called upon the government to implement ‘urgent change’ to support women in the workplace going through menopause.
These calls come at the same time as the Employment Tribunal is seeing a sustained increase in cases relating to menopause – up from five in 2018 to 23 in 2021. Claims in the Employment Tribunal have been usually under the Equality Act 2010, primarily under the provisions relating to sex, age or disability discrimination but could also be validly brought under constructive dismissal provisions. The Fawcett Society has said that menopause “falls through the cracks” of the current legislation and recommended, amongst other things, that it should be included as a standalone protected characteristic.
However, the UK Government has confirmed that it has no plans to introduce menopause as a specific protected characteristic in the Act. It stated that implementing the changes as called upon would “introduce unwelcome regulatory complexity and place new costly burdens on business”, and views that the existing provisions are sufficient to offer protection to woman. Nevertheless, it has committed to working with the EHRC and Acas to assess whether existing guidance on menopause adequately reflects the growing body of tribunal case law on the matter and establish a clearer position on what best practice would be.
Therefore, the combination of workplace demographics, the impact of menopause symptoms and growing ability for employees to be more open about these (including, ultimately, enforcing their rights) means this is not a topic which employers can simply ignore.
So what can employers do now?
The most straightforward step employers can take now is to assess how they currently support menopausal employees.
The introduction of a specific menopause policy can be considered, which would include training staff and managers on the topic, with the aim of reducing stigma surrounding it. A comprehensive policy should include, for example, provisions on sickness absence as a result of menopause or associated symptoms and how this will be dealt with by the employer; and who employees can go to if they are struggling.
It may also be a good idea to carry out a ‘menopause risk assessment’ in collaboration with employees to identify which practical aspects of the working day could be improved. This could include consideration of, for example, sufficient ventilation, access to cold water facilities, or creating ‘quiet rooms’.
If you are looking for advice on menopause in the workplace, or how to better support your employees generally, please get in touch with a member of our specialist employment team.
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