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Menopause Symptoms in the Workplace - What Support Can I Expect From my Employer?

By Employment Solicitor

When a Bank of England official wanted to explain how our economy was past its peak and no longer potent just recently, he used the word “menopausal”.

Deputy Governor Ben Broadbent may have since apologised for his turn of phrase but his language will have spoken volumes to women who feel they’ve been discriminated against while going through the menopause.

And while Mr Broadbent faced public criticism, he will not face legal action; unlike an employer, who could risk opening themselves up to discrimination claims if they shared the same views publicly about their staff.

What is menopause discrimination?

When you’re going through this time of your life and your employer treats you unfavourably because of it, this could amount to discrimination. This could include anything from failing to listen to your requests for support, to belittling you, or failing to consider requests for reasonable adjustments such as changes to hours of work or modifications to performance-related targets. 

Around one in three of the UK workforce is over 50 – that’s up from around one in five in the early 1990s. This means there are potentially millions of women struggling with menopause symptoms in the workplace.

And with these symptoms including hot flushes, increased stress levels, sleep problems, mood changes and poor concentration, it’s easy to see how what their bodies are going through could affect their performance in the workplace. Psychological symptoms can also include low self-esteem, depression and anxiety and loss of self-confidence.

However, because it’s a normal life event for women and is not an illness or a medical condition, symptoms of it are too often under recognised and not taken seriously.

But while menopause itself is not a protected characteristic like disability or race; employees could still have protection under the Equality Act 2010.

Age, sex and disability discrimination towards employees are prohibited under this Act, all of which could be linked to a woman’s menopausal symptoms and her employer’s treatment of her.

What support can I expect from my employer?

If the menopause is having an adverse effect on your ability to carry out your role, responsible employers need to address your issues.

Reasonable steps you could expect an employer to take to improve your working life and in turn reduce their risk of action being taken against them over menopause discrimination include:

  • Having a menopause policy which sets out information for employees/ managers/ HR detailing the organisation’s processes for supporting employees.
  • Providing training for management to allow the policy and employees to be properly supported.
  • Providing referrals to occupational health specialists and taking into consideration any medical advice obtained by the employee.
  • Considering reasonable adjustments in the workplace – this could include adjusting the temperature/ looking into improved ventilation or finding out if there could be a temporary change to working hours/ flexible working. Each case should be assessed on its own merits and so reasonable adjustments could vary.

What can I do if my employer refuses to help?

For many years there was no legislation to protect pregnant women in the workplace but few would question the value of supporting pregnant women or their contribution to the workforce nowadays. Thankfully menopause is starting to be treated in the same way and employees should not be made to feel embarrassed if they raise that they are having problems.

If an employee does feel that they are being treated unfairly at work for reasons related to menopause they have a number of options open to them. If speaking to your line manager or a member of staff from HR or Occupational Health has proved fruitless, you can raise an internal grievance followed by more formal action i.e. seeking independent legal advice.

Menopause as a Disability

In a landmark case, a woman called Mandy Davies who was sacked from her role at the Scottish Court and Tribunal Service won back her job and got a £19,000 payout after a tribunal ruled her menopause was a disability.

She brought legal action against SCTS claiming she had been discriminated against because of a painful and disruptive menopause which included heavy bleeding for weeks at a time, anxiety, palpations and memory loss.

The tribunal ruled that, in her case she had been unfairly dismissed and she had been discriminated against because of a disability, i.e. her menopause.

In light of the ruling, this is likely to be the first of many claims of this nature and employers should be alert to the possible litigation risks if they fail to address the issues seriously.

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