In the post-pandemic corporate landscape, companies are placing increased focus on employee well-being. However, Jo Davis, B P Collins’ employment partner and founder of the firm’s HR consultancy, HR2Help, warns that the level of knowledge surrounding menopause and its effect on women’s careers remains limited.
According to the Office of National Statistics, menopausal women are the fastest growing workforce demographic. It is therefore important for all workforce participants to have an understanding of what menopause is and how women affected by it can feel supported. In particular, employers should lead the way in educating and supporting their staff.
Menopause and discrimination
One of the major protections for employees is the protection against discrimination under the Equality Act in relation to a variety of “protected characteristics”
Menopause is not currently a protected characteristic. Despite some calls for it to become one, in January 2023, the government said it would not launch a consultation on amending the Equality Act to introduce a new protected characteristic of menopause and nor would it legislate for “a duty to provide reasonable adjustments for menopausal employees”. It said that such a move could have, “unintended consequences which may inadvertently create new forms of discrimination, for example, discrimination risks towards men suffering from long term medical conditions or eroding existing protections.”
The government had previously concluded that employees who are treated less favourably than their colleagues because of menopausal symptoms, are already protected in that they may be able to rely on the protected characteristics of sex, age and disability.
Discrimination is not always straightforward and can take many forms, ranging from office banter to uniformly applying a policy across the whole workforce which affects a menopausal person more acutely. For disability discrimination in particular, it is important to note that menopause doesn’t come with a standard list of symptoms, but their cumulative effect can nonetheless amount to a disability.
This was illustrated in the case of Rooney v Leicester City Council in which the Employment Appeal Tribunal held that a menopausal employee experiencing a wide range of symptoms including confusion, memory loss, light-headedness, stress, depression, anxiety, palpitations, migraines and hot flushes was disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. The court stated that Ms Rooney’s symptoms had a substantial adverse effect on her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
Five things employers can do:
According to a British Menopause Society survey, 45% of women indicated they felt their menopause symptoms had a negative impact on their work. Lack of support for menopausal women can mean that highly experienced and skilled employees are being pushed out of the workforce. Employers have a duty to create an inclusive work environment and to prevent menopausal women from leaving, employers should consider:
- Implementing a menopause policy. This can help employees know what support is available to them and how to access it. It will also operate as a useful tool for line managers in setting out how to provide assistance and effectively address any performance-related issues. Consulting with employees affected by its content should be prioritised when creating the policy, which might mean those working with menopausal colleagues as well as those experiencing menopause themselves. Also be aware that, according to menopauseintheworkplace.co.uk, members of the trans and non-binary community can sometimes experience menopause symptoms if they are taking hormonal treatments. It is vital for employers to be trans and non-binary inclusive in the help they offer.
- The first ever national NHS guidance on the menopause was issued in November 2022. Menopausal women working in the health service will be able to do their jobs from home if their symptoms require it. “Flexible working patterns” – including lighter duties, flexible breaks or remote working – will also be considered for those struggling with symptoms in this way too. The private sector could follow suit and enable employees to manage their symptoms in this way too.
- It’s important that employers recognise menopause symptoms can be wide-ranging. Alongside hot flushes and sweats, other symptoms can include brain fog, dizziness, fatigue and poor mental health.
- To help employees understand the impact that menopause symptoms can have and to break down taboos in the workplace, employers can share educational content and resources and offer staff training.
- Support mechanisms could be implemented, such as creating a discussion group where employees who are going through the menopause can talk about how they feel and their experiences. This is also useful for employees who have family members affected by the menopause. Having an open culture in the workplace is vital to ensuring that menopause is normalised.