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Menopause and the workplace: A case for discrimination?

Side-lined, sacked or forced to go part-time? Davina McCall’s new documentary will investigate menopause and the workplace. Employers take note!

Menopausal aged woman at a laptop

Women make up nearly half of the UK workforce and interestingly those aged over 50 are the fastest growing segment. It’s estimated that in the UK around one in three women are either currently going through, or have reached, the menopause and between 75-80% of menopausal women are in work in the UK. The stark reality is that many won’t meet their full working potential unless they get the right support from their employer – around 900,000 have left their jobs because of menopause.

Menopausal; what does it mean?

Some women won’t experience any menopausal effects or see it impact on their daily life, but others will suffer from physical and psychological symptoms that will affect their ability to work and their relationships with colleagues. There’s still a stigma surrounding menopause and nearly half of women who take a day off because of their symptoms (which can include anxiety and panic attacks) don’t tell their employer the real reason for their absence. A woman with menopausal symptoms should be supported in the same way as any other employee with an ongoing health condition.

Menopause in the workplace

The key take home from Davina’s documentary will be that employers should have steps, procedures, and support in place to help staff affected by menopause and to train managers, supervisors, and team leaders. It is advisable to enshrine this in a menopause policy. The statutory framework is contained in the Equality Act 2010 which protects workers against discrimination and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which provides that an employer must, where reasonably practical, ensure everyone’s health, safety, and welfare at work.

Menopause and discrimination

Although menopause is not a protected characteristic in itself under the discrimination legislation, women have successfully brought claims under sex, disability and age discrimination. There are simple steps an employer could take to ensure that working conditions don’t exacerbate an employee’s symptoms and identify adjustments that could be made to help the employee fulfil their performance potential. These could include moving someone’s desk away from a heat source, adapting uniforms or providing more spares, improving access to toilet facilities, supplying additional fans and access to cool drinking water and being flexible with start and finish times.

Interestingly, the number of tribunal claims related to menopause has quadrupled since 2018. Supporting women going through the menopause should be a key strategy for all employers in retaining and developing female talent, not least to avoid future litigation. If you have questions as an employer or employee, our specialist Employment Team can help.

This article was written by Cathryn O’Hare

Please note the contents contained in this article are for general guidance only and reflection the position at time of posting. Legal advice should be sought before taking action in relation to specific matters.

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