Menopause in the Workplace
The impact of menopause in the workplace is increasingly under the spotlight. The number of working women reaching the usual age to go through the menopause has significantly increased in recent years. Menopausal women are the fastest growing demographic in the workforce. Almost eight out of 10 of menopausal women are in work and according to the European Menopause and Andropause Society last year there were 657 million women aged 45- 59, many of which are contributing to the workforce throughout their menopausal years. As the number of working women experiencing the menopause increases the issue will surely be one that demands the attention of employers on how to best provide support and equal treatment in the workplace or risk challenges in the Employment Tribunals.
A recent survey of 2,000 employees and 500 business owners by Benenden Health found 23% of women who have been unwell as a result of the menopause have left jobs, despite the fact that nearly all businesses polled (95 per cent) recognised that symptoms negatively impact work.
Employers therefore appear highly aware that the menopause can adversely affect working women but have yet to implement ways to successfully support and retain women during their menopause. The menopause remains a “taboo” subject, but this must change if employers are going to retain the talent of working women throughout their working lives.
In July 2021, the UK House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee commenced an inquiry headed “An invisible cohort: Why are workplaces failing women going through menopause?”. The inquiry aims to scrutinise existing legislation and enquire whether enough is being done to support women experiencing menopause.
Whilst menopause is not specifically protected under the Equality Act 2010 conduct that places an employee at a disadvantage or subjects the employee to less favourable treatment because of their menopause symptoms may amount to discrimination under the act on the grounds of sex, age, or disability. Harassment of a menopausal woman may also be unlawful discrimination. There have been several calls to make a workplace menopause policy a legal requirement to protect women experiencing menopause from discrimination at work. Should employers choose to implement such a policy careful and sensitive training would also need to be carried out to ensure compliance and understanding.
In recent years there has been increased employment tribunal litigation relating to discrimination relating to the menopause.
Donnachie v Telent Technology Services Ltd (2020)
In this case Ms Donnachie had found that her menopausal symptoms had become “intrusive and disruptive”. The employment tribunal (ET) was asked to determine whether the effect of Donnachie’s menopausal symptoms on her “normal day-to-day activities was substantial,” in order to meet the definition of disability under the Equality Act.
The Tribunal held that Ms Donnachie was disabled by reason of menopause or symptoms of menopause, stating:
“I see no reason why, in principle, ‘typical’ menopausal symptoms cannot have the relevant disabling effect on an individual. … I have little hesitation in concluding that the effect of her menopausal impairment on her day-to-day activities is more than minor or trivial. The range of her daily activities and her ability to undertake them when she would wish with the rhythm and frequency she once did is markedly affected”.
Rooney v Leicester City Council (2021)
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has more recently addressed the question of whether typical menopausal symptoms may amount to a disability under the Equality Act.
Ms Rooney had brought a number of claims against her employer, including a claim for disability discrimination. She argued that her “severe” menopausal symptoms constituted a disability and that she received no management support. For example, when she mentioned to a male manager that she was suffering from hot flushes, he replied that “he also gets hot in the office” and dismissed the fact that it was a menopausal symptom.
The ET held that Rooney was not suffering from a disability as a result of her menopause symptoms and her disability discrimination claim was dismissed.
Ms Rooney appealed the decision. The EAT allowed the appeal and remitted the claims to be considered by a new ET. The EAT held that the ET had “erred in law in holding that she was not a disabled person at the relevant time”.
The EAT found it difficult to understand how the ET had arrived at the conclusion that Rooney was not disabled, when the ET had not expressly contested the evidence about Rooney’s symptoms:
“There is no explanation as to how the Tribunal concluded that this evidence, which it did not reject, did not demonstrate an effect on day-to-day activities that was more than minor or trivial.”
What are the takeaways from the increasing parliamentary attention and Tribunal decisions relating to the treatment of menopausal women at work?
We would strongly advise employers to undertake the following actions to create a supportive working environment for employees experiencing menopause:
- Create and implement a menopause policy;
- Provide training to all staff on the symptoms of menopause and how to support a co-worker who is going through the menopause;
- Carry out a risk assessment to understand if any workplace changes are needed and if the workplace is safe for a member of staff undergoing the menopause;
- Provide further training for managers on how to support menopausal staff and discipline staff who fail to support or harass menopausal employees;
- Create an open, respectful and sensitive culture within the workplace;
- Make changes where possible such as altered working days/hours/remote working;
- Implement environmental changes such as providing desk fans, adequate ventilation or temperature control.
With sensitivity and support menopausal women should be able to continue working whilst they undergo the menopause. Such women are likely to be highly valued, knowledgeable and often senior members of the workforce.
We would love to help you support your staff and would be very happy to help you implement a menopause policy and offer support and guidance to your management.