October marks #MeopauseAwarenesssMonth
Menopause in the workplace is not a new issue but it has been making headlines recently with celebrities speaking out about their own personal experiences raising awareness of the topic and more claims are being brought in the Employment Tribunal alleging poor treatment as a result of the menopause.
Sarah Begley of The Wilkes Partnership comments; “the menopause is thankfully no longer a taboo subject and more and more people are speaking out about their experiences of menopause discrimination in the workplace”.
In this article, Sarah will explore the nature of such complaints, how they can be avoided and, what employers can do to support affected employees.
The menopause is a natural part of the ageing process when a woman’s oestrogen levels decline and usually occurs between 45-55 years of age. Women going through the menopause are now the fastest growing demographic in the workplace.
Menopause symptoms do vary in severity and length and in some cases can interfere with day-to-day life. For some, symptoms can start early and the symptoms can last for years.
The symptoms can include:
- Hot flushes
- Low mood or anxiety
- Problems with memory and concentration commonly referred to as ‘brain fog’
- Dizzy spells
- Excessive bleeding
- Poor sleep
- Panic attacks.
The menopause is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. Protection can however be sought under discrimination legislation (sex, disability and/or age) where individuals are treated unfairly. Case law suggests disability is the most common.
A recent 2020 Employment Tribunal case (Donnachie v Telent Technology Services Ltd) made a preliminary finding of disability in respect of a claimant suffering from menopausal symptoms. The employer had argued that they were ‘typical’ symptoms and should not be afforded protection. The Tribunal disagreed. The claimant described her symptoms as initially mild hot flushes. This quickly progressed to 7-8 per day together with palpitations and anxiety. She then began to suffer with night sweats and disturbed sleep resulting in fatigue, poor concentration and memory. She struggled with household chores as well as reading and writing. The Tribunal had no difficulty in finding that the impact of her menopausal impairment on her day-today activities was more than minor or trivial and accordingly satisfied the legal test for disability.
Employers are advised to handle matters carefully and sensitively. Avoid personal and dismissive remarks or simply mocking or making light of complaints. Reasonable adjustments should be encouraged where appropriate and absences for menopause related symptoms should be distinguished from other absences. Employers should also proceed with caution when considering how to approach a performance management plan.
Sarah explains” “the starting point to avoid embarrassment or feeling uncomfortable about the topic is to provide training for managers. Good communication, as with many employment matters, is key.”
So, what sort of workplace adjustments could be considered?
- Freely available access to cold water
- Ventilated rooms
- Desk fans
- Where uniforms are required, a degree of flexibility in terms of the fit and fabric
- The use of a quiet room could be helpful.
Although a menopause policy is not mandatory, it is probably a good idea to think about introducing one: for the benefit of employers and staff alike. Simply knowing the there is a source of support can make all the difference for staff morale and avoid a situation where people simply suffer in silence.
For further information on this or any other employment law related topic, please contact Sarah Begley.