7. Menopause and the Workplace
Effects of the Menopause
Menopause is a natural stage of life as a woman’s oestrogen levels decline, and they stop having periods, although experiences vary between individuals and for some, symptoms can have both a physical and mental effect on their wellbeing. It usually takes place between the ages of 45 – 55, and symptoms usually last around 4 years, but menopause can also happen earlier or later in someone’s life, and for some, symptoms can last a lot longer.
Common symptoms (which can range from very mild to severe) can include hot flushes, night sweats, difficulty sleeping, low mood or anxiety, problems with memory and concentration.
Why should employers be aware of the menopause?
Menopause is a health and wellbeing concern which needs to be handled sensitively. It is not a specific protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, but if an employee is put at a disadvantage and treated less favourably because of their menopause symptoms, this could be discrimination if related to a protected characteristic (e.g. age, disability, sex or gender reassignment).
What can employers do to support your employees?
Below are some pointers around how you may support your employees on this matter:
- Talk about it; ensure managers know how to have conversations with employees about the menopause, what support is available and any policies in place.
- Consider the person’s job role and responsibilities; such as shift lengths, toilet breaks, and flexibility.
- Carry out a health and safety risk assessment; ensure that symptoms are not made worse by the workplace or its practices.
- Develop a Menopause Policy; increase the understanding of the menopause, as well as communicating any training and points of contact within the company.
- Consider reasonable adjustments; particularly if there are sickness absence or job performance issues (you also may want to consider getting a medical opinion, e.g. Occupational Health).
Menopause and Employment Tribunals
There has been a significant increase in the number of successful tribunals relating to menopause in recent years. On 7th October 2021, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) gave its first ruling on menopausal symptoms and disability. The EAT overturned an employment tribunal decision which had dismissed the claimant’s claim for disability discrimination, and has referred the issue for reconsideration (M Rooney v Leicester City Council).
The claimant (MR) was a child care social worker. She made a claim to her employer (LCC), arguing that the menopausal symptoms she was experiencing had a substantial and long term adverse effect on her ability to carry out day-to-day activities, and therefore she met the definition of a disabled person set out in the Equality Act. This was summarised by the employment judge as below:
“She states that her menopausal symptoms included, inter alia, hot flushes and sweating, palpitations and anxiety, night sweats and sleep disturbance, fatigue, poor concentration, urinary problems and headaches.
Specifically, she said that her symptoms led to her forgetting to attend events, meetings and appointments, losing personal possessions, forgetting to put the handbrake on her car and forgetting to lock it, leaving the cooker and iron on and leaving the house without locking doors and windows. She also spent prolonged periods in bed due to fatigue/exhaustion. She further refers to dizziness, incontinence and joint pain.”
This evidence on how the menopause affected MR’s day-to-day activities was not contested and the EAT struggled to understand from the written reasons of the employment tribunal judge (who originally heard the case), as to why MR’s disability discrimination claim had been dismissed. The EAT has remitted the issue back to the employment tribunal, emphasising that a ruling on this point required “careful factual analysis”. While the EAT did not make its own finding that MR was a disabled person, we expect that the tribunal may find her to be a disabled person the second time round. The significance of the EAT’s decision is that it reinforces that tribunals need to treat menopausal symptoms seriously when assessing claims for disability discrimination.