The 18 October is World Menopause Day, a day that aims to raise awareness of the menopause and the support options available. With many more women in the workplace, and our population living longer, the awareness of the impact of the menopause in the workplace is rightly increasing.
The menopause occurs in women between the ages of 45 – 55, with the average age in the UK being 51 although it can also happen earlier or later. There are 35 million women aged over 50 in the workplace and menopause symptoms can have a significant impact on women, as well as impacting colleagues and organisational management.
Menopause symptoms last around four years, and can include:
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Difficulty sleeping
- Reduced sex drive (libido)
- Problems with memory and concentration
- Mood changes; low mood and anxiety
- Noticeable heartbeats
- Joint stiffness, aches and pains
- Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
Menopause and the law
There are provisions within Employment Law which can guide organisations as to supporting their staff.
The Equality Act 2010 protects workers against discrimination including because of their sex, disability and age. Whilst menopause and perimenopause (the menopause transitional phase which can occur during the 40s for most women) are not specifically protected under the Equality Act, where a worker is treated unfairly because of menopause and perimenopause, this may amount to discrimination (for sex and/or disability and/or age). This has also been demonstrated in case law – in Davies v Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service menopause symptoms were accepted to be a disability in an employment tribunal.
In addition to protection under the Equality Act 2010, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 says an employer must, where reasonably practical, ensure health, safety and welfare of their employees at work.
What can workplaces do to assist women in the workplace?
As the stigma around the menopause starts to lift, organisations can help improve their workplace environment to support their staff. In return, this can help reduce staff sickness absence which may be related to menopausal symptoms and help improve staff wellbeing and productivity.
Positive actions might include:
- Offering flexibility including supporting staff to work from home where practicable
- Improving temperature control and ventilation – providing a fan, and a desk seated near a window that opens
- Where uniforms are worn, ensure they are well fitting and comfortable
- Provide a suitable place for rest
- Ensure easily available toilet and washroom facilities
- Provide cold drinking water
The role of managers in supporting menopausal staff
- Ensure women feel confident in approaching their manager to raise concerns and for support
- Understand how perimenopause and menopause can affect an employee
- Implement support and working practice and environment changes where appropriate
- Understand the relevant employment law relating to menopause
- Offer options for employees who feel unable to approach their managers on the subject including discussions with the human resources team, trade union representatives or counsellors
Managing sickness and absence due to menopause
Given the employment law protection of employees related to The Equality Act, employers should manage and sickness or absence due to menopause with care. Time off sick because of the perimenopause or menopause should be recorded in a way that can be distinguished from other absences.
ACAS provide useful guidance on the menopause at work: https://archive.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=6752
Bengi Karakus is a Trainee Solicitor within the Hatch Brenner Solicitors Dispute Resolution Team. For employment law advice relating to the menopause, equality, discrimination or sickness and absence issues, please contact our Norwich Employment Solicitors via 01603 660 811 or email firstname.lastname@example.org