Do Employers Have A Legal Obligation To Offer Workplace Support To Employees Going Through The Menopause?

With increased rates of employment among women over 50 this will mean that more working woman than ever before will experience menopause symptoms during their working lives. Joanne Briscoe, Associate Solicitor in our Employment team looks at the employer legal obligations and employee rights regarding menopause.

Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development have found that two thirds (67%) of working women between the ages of 40 and 60 with experience of menopausal symptoms said they have had a mostly negative impact on them at work.

According to a report by the Fawcett Society about 1 in 10 women aged 45-55 left their jobs in 2022 due to menopause symptoms and lack of workplace support.

Analysis of court records by the Menopause Experts Group shows that the number of tribunal cases citing menopause increased by 44% in 2021.

As workplace issues relating to the menopause are increasing – what is the legal position? What legal obligation do employers have and what can employees do if menopause is impacting on their ability to carry out their job?

The word menopause is often used in a general way. Medically menopause is a date 12 months after a woman’s periods stop. Perimenopause is when a woman experiences menopause symptoms, but their periods have not stopped. Women can experience menopause at a younger age or after surgery and they can also continue to experience menopause symptoms post menopause. Women in any of the above situations can suffer from physical and mental symptoms that impact on the performance of their job.

Employer legal obligations

There is no specific legal protection aimed at women in the workplace going through the menopause. Menopause is not itself a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 – so going through the menopause does not automatically give a woman in the workplace protection.

In February 2024, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (“EHRC”) provided advice for employers on menopause and the Equality Act. Although, this does not change the law, it is a positive step for women, as it outlines to employers their legal obligations towards women with menopause symptoms.

Although menopause is not a protected characteristic, the treatment of a woman in the workplace with symptoms of the menopause could be discriminatory, or amount to harassment or victimisation if it relates to a protected characteristic, including disability, age and sex.

The symptoms of menopause can be physical (such as hot flushes, heavy periods and headaches) and psychological (such as memory loss, confusion and depression). If the symptoms have a significant impact on a woman’s day to day activities including her ability to perform in the workplace the woman may be deemed to have a disability in law, which is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 and could give her the legal route to bring a discrimination claim against her employer. If the menopause symptoms amount to a disability, an employer will be under a legal duty to make reasonable workplace adjustments, which could be changes to the workplace, working arrangements or the provision of equipment to support the woman.

When considering their legal obligations, employers must also be aware of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which says an employer must, where reasonably practical, ensure everyone’s health, safety and welfare at work.

Employers need to be aware that the menopause affects women differently and also other people who menstruate, such as trans people.

The EHRC advice provides useful tips to employers to help them meet their legal obligations, make reasonable workplace adjustments and to prevent discrimination.

ACAS have also published guidance “ACAS: Menopause at Work”. This provides guidance for both employers and workers about how best to handle menopause-related issues in the workplace. It highlights the importance of managing the effects of the menopause at work for both employers and workers.

Joanne Briscoe associate solicitor at Wilkes comments that:

Although the law does not require the employer to offer support for workers experiencing the menopause, having a specific menopause policy in place, and offering staff training could help employers to minimise the risk of menopause related discrimination claims and provide guidance to assist them to deal with menopause related issues.  It also provides the women with information about the workplace support offered and it could help employers to retain and recruit workers over 50”.

Employee rights

Employees are often reluctant to raise menopause issues with their employer as they may feel that it makes them appear vulnerable but if their symptoms are impacting on their ability to carry out their job then they should feel able to do so. It is important that their employer is aware that any issues with their performance at work are caused by menopausal symptoms. The first step for an employee is to check whether their employer has a menopause policy as this will be first way to obtain support. If the symptoms could amount to a disability the employee may want to suggest reasonable adjustments that would help them at work to their employer. This could be a cooler or quieter space to work in or and flexible working times to accommodate medical appointments or a slightly later start time after a bad night’s sleep.

Joanne Briscoe associate solicitor at Wilkes comments that:

An aging workforce means that more women will be experiencing menopause symptoms whilst at work. If employers fail to recognise their legal obligations towards menopausal women, they could face costly workplace disputes and legal proceedings and lose these women from their talent pool.”

For more information please contact Joanne Briscoe, Solicitor in our Employment team on 0121 733 8000 or via email at [email protected].

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