Employment law

Menopause rights in the workplace

The stigma around the menopause may make it difficult for you to seek support from your employer, but what are your existing rights in relation to the menopause in the workplace?

13 October 2021

The menopause affects all women at some point in their lives. According to the NHS, women in the UK reach the menopause, on average, at around 51 years of age, but this can vary from person to person.

To put this into context, figures from healthcare group, Bupa, highlights that 3.5 million of Britain’s female workforce are “aged 50 or over”. Menopausal women are also “the fastest growing demographic in the workplace”.

Whilst not exclusively menopause-related, some symptoms experienced by menopausal (or pre-menopausal) women include loss of confidence, poor memory, and difficulty sleeping, all of which can impact negatively on work performance and productivity.

Is menopause a disability?

The menopause is not in itself classed as a disability and there are currently no direct menopause discrimination laws protecting workers in the UK.

However, this doesn’t mean that if you’re going through the menopause, and are struggling at work, you aren’t protected from detriment.

You may be able to bring several claims to the Employment Tribunal (ET) on menopause-related disputes. These include unfair dismissal and/or discrimination based on sex, age, or disability.

Although it’s not directly a disability, the ET has acknowledged that symptoms of the menopause can amount to a disability, and a claim for discrimination may succeed on a case-by-case basis.

This is because, under the Equality Act 2010, disability is defined as a “physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.”

Some combined symptoms of the menopause may therefore fall under this definition.

Further protections are being considered by the Women and Equalities Committee, after an inquiry was launched into how workers going through the menopause can be better protected at work.

A key consideration for the committee is whether the 2010 Act can be strengthened to include the menopause as a protected characteristic. This could, if it becomes law, make it easier for you to make a discrimination claim to the ET.

How are people going through the menopause supported in the workplace?

The topic of the menopause in the workplace can often be glossed over and, as a result, affected people may find it difficult to speak with their employers about their struggles.

Earlier this year, Vodafone commissioned a survey into the menopause at work as part of its awareness, training, and support programme. Of the 5,012 people surveyed, 62% noted that the menopause impacted them at work, while 44% felt that they were “too embarrassed” to seek support from their employer.

These figures show that employers may not be doing enough to implement support or raise awareness of the support on offer to their menopausal workforce. As a result, some workers (one in four, according to Bupa) consider leaving their jobs.

If your employer has any form of support available, they may have outlined this within a menopause workplace policy. This will set a clear obligation on them to consider their menopausal staff members, and for you to be aware of the help you can receive from the business.

Is it a legal right for employers to have a menopause policy?

A menopause policy in the workplace, whilst important, isn’t a legal requirement.

Nevertheless, due to the connection between the menopause and reduced work performance, your employer may have been persuaded to create a policy on the matter. If so, they must ensure they make this accessible to you.

What’s included in a menopause policy at work is non-exhaustive, but it can set out:

  • Point of contact – who you can contact for menopause-related issues
  • Menopause and time off work – whether taking time off work for menopause-related issues is permitted
  • Menopause and job loss – ensuring that you are not unfairly dismissed as a result of your menopause and its associated symptoms
  • Break allocation – permitting short breaks throughout the working day
  • Remote working or other flexible working arrangements

Keep in mind that, even though a policy is not a legal requirement, and your employer may not have a menopause policy in place, you can still make a claim if you have been discriminated against.

Aside from disability discrimination, sex discrimination may arise if you are treated less favourably because you are going through the menopause.

What changes can employers make to support menopausal people?

The workplace is where you likely spend much of your time, so any changes your employer makes to facilitate a supportive and inclusive working environment can go a long way.

Your feelings about your job and employer may improve, but so might conversations around the menopause in the wider society as more awareness is raised.

Aside from ensuring that policies are implemented and kept up to date, your employer inviting you to partake in conversations about matters which affect you will lead change. For them, this begins with recognising that not only women are affected by this.

Some non-binary and transgender people may also go through the menopause at some point in their lives, and you could bring a claim for gender reassignment discrimination if you’re eligible.

Raising awareness and ensuring that such campaigns are accurate and inclusive of all groups of people will prove beneficial to your employer if they wish to foster a culture of embracing rather than stigmatising the menopause.

That said, employers may find that tackling unconscious bias in the workplace will help towards achieving this goal, e.g., learning to not exclude a particular age group because it’s believed they are too young to experience the menopause.

What actions can you take if you think you’re being discriminated against?

Going through the menopause should never be a reason to face a detriment at work and you have several different options if you feel you have been discriminated against.

You may have already tried raising an informal complaint with your manager or a more formal grievance which hasn’t gone anywhere. Speak to our specialist employment lawyers for expert advice on your next move.

By seeking legal advice with us, we’ll be able to offer insight into the type of claim, or claims, that you could bring against your employer based on your specific circumstances. For more information, and to find out how our team of experts can support you, simply call us on 0330 041 5869. Or, if you prefer, you can contact us via our online form or web chat.

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