Menopause – what an employer should consider to support their employees
The menopause is a stage of life that has seldom attracted more attention, thanks in part to high profile figures and recent tribunal cases where employers are accused of failing to support their employees. Menopause is often wrongly seen as being simply an “older women’s issue” but this is incorrect as the menopause, and its symptoms, affect not just women but trans-men and non-binary individuals. Its symptoms can occur at any age with them most commonly showing in those in their 40s and 50s with the average age being 51. More to the point, the impact of the menopause, whether directly or indirectly, will touch the lives of most of your working population.
Can an employee claim discrimination for menopause symptoms?
From a legal point of view, the menopause is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, although there is lobbying for this to change in the future. Despite this, right now an employee experiencing the menopause could bring a claim that they are being treated differently (discriminated against) due to disability, age and/or gender depending on the facts. For instance, an employee who is suffering substantial symptoms like night sweats and an inability to sleep, could struggle to start work on time. If they are given a disciplinary warning or have their pay reduced as a result, that could be deemed as less favourable treatment because of them going through menopause and may well result in a discrimination claim.
A snapshot of recent cases illustrates the ways that claims have arisen in relation to treatment of the menopause and its symptoms in the workplace:
In Best v Embark on Raw Ltd 2020, Ms Best’s manager shouted at the top his voice that the then 52 year old “must be in her menopause”. As a result, Ms Best won claims for both gender and age discrimination.
In Rooney v Leicester City Council 2021, Ms Rooney brought a claim in the employment tribunal which decided her menopausal symptoms did not amount to a disability. She appealed and won – the next level tribunal stated that the tribunal should have considered the activities Ms Rooney could not do because of her symptoms, rather than what she could do. This put more emphasis on the Council and every employer to look at work and non-work tasks before concluding an employee isn’t disabled and, if in doubt, to make reasonable adjustments.
Many employees will seek medical advice from a doctor about their symptoms and may in turn feel able to talk to their line manager, a colleague or a member of the HR team. This will give your organisation some insight into what they are facing and how they want you to help. Alternatively, there may be uncharacteristic behaviour or clues that an employee could be experiencing menopausal symptoms and, as an employer, you need to stay alert, without prying, to the possibility that they are going through this natural process which may impact their work, behaviour to others and their own sense of wellbeing.
What steps should an employer take to support their employees?
Guidance for both employees and line mangers on how your organisation supports those who may be experiencing the menopause should be readily accessible. Online support, could be supplemented by running drop-in awareness sessions and circulating links to further information to employees.
Create a safe space to talk
Talking openly and respectfully about how employees feel enables all employees the opportunity to speak up if they are struggling at work, whether due to menopausal symptoms or not. Employers could also consider having a menopause champion who would be a point of contact for both employees and their line managers; making it easier for the employee to discuss their health or adjustments they may need.
Line managers should be trained to understand the impact that menopause can have on their people and the sorts of adjustments which might be helpful (e.g. later start times, regular breaks, fans, variable air conditioning settings). Most importantly you want to upskill your team leads so they know how to access that support in your organisation and to be aware that behavioural changes (as a result of this or other medical conditions) shouldn’t be ignored.
Flexibility and absence management
Flexibility is key as the symptoms can vary and fluctuate throughout an employee’s menopause. Sickness absence procedures should make it clear how menopause-related sickness absence is treated and build in sufficient flexibility. Team leads should have the ability to extend paid sick leave and unpaid sick leave where appropriate.
Consider implementing a menopause policy
This clearly demonstrates your commitment to supporting employees and it is a good initiative to raise awareness of your steps to support those experiencing the menopause. This policy would usually set out suggested language for team leads’ use, the resources and people available in your organisation, that employees can speak to them in confidence and the types of support available.
How we can help
We understand the impact the menopause can have on employees and employers; with a vast amount of experience within our employment team. Please feel free to contact Holly Milne or a member of the employment team should you need any further advice or assistance.