Even though the menopause and perimenopause aren't protected under the Equality Act 2010, an employee who feels they are being treated unfairly with regard to sick leave caused by the menopause or any other less favorable treatment may be able to claim they are being discriminated against because of their sex, age or a disability.
Will my workplace have a company policy on menopause?
A menopause workplace policy is similar to policies regarding health and safety, equality and a general code of conduct - the kind that most workplaces already have in place. However, not all businesses have a specific menopause policy, and whilst ACAS advises it, it is not a legal requirement.
Having a menopause policy in place sends a clear signal to all employees that this is a subject taken seriously and one that can and should be discussed openly within the workplace.
Policies should be distributed across the organisation and form the basis of any menopause training given to managers. It should also be reviewed regularly to ensure that it is still fit for purpose. The policy should demonstrate a clear understanding of what menopause is and how it affects people, as well as understanding that each individual will be affected differently. It will also set out in detail the support on offer for employees affected by the menopause.
Other information included in the policy should be details of the menopause-related training offered to managers, team leaders and supervisors, the specific point of contact – or multiple points of contact – for questions about the menopause and a commitment to talking and listening about the effects of the menopause in a supportive and sensitive manner.
What can employers do to support menopause?
The steps an employer can take to support employees going through the menopause have been set out in some detail above. To summarise, the employers need to:
- Demonstrate awareness of the impact of the menopause and perimenopause.
- Nominate specific individuals to act as 'menopause champions' across the workforce, offering support and a clear point of contact for employees wishing to ask questions or raise points.
- Create a detailed menopause policy to offer an overview of the support on offer and formalise the creation of a menopause-friendly culture within the organisation.
- Undertake risk assessment which refers specifically to symptoms experienced as part of the menopause, such as hot flushes.
Does employment law cover the menopause?
Whilst employment law doesn't cover the menopause directly, the findings of the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee inquiry did suggest that businesses generally lacked clarity regarding their obligations towards employees going through the menopause. The inquiry's participants also expressed a belief that those going through the menopause should be legally protected, possibly as one of the protected characteristics listed under the Equality Act 2010. The Equalities Committee has not yet published any recommendations, however upon doing so these could have an impact upon employment law and how menopause is addressed within it.
Upon releasing the results of the survey undertaken by the committee, chair Caroline Nokes MP stated that:
"If companies want to retain talent and experience, they need to wake up to the reality of menopause. Our survey shows us just how common symptoms have an obvious impact in the workplace and how ashamed those experiencing them feel. Yet the survey tells us that the solutions are in easy reach for most organisations. Much of this is about practical adjustments for employees and stamping out boorish 'banter' that menopause is a 'women's problem' or a joke. There's a legal, social and economic imperative to support working women through a normal life transition, so we can hold on to role models for the next generation."
Whether this translates into a change in employment law is something that will only become clear when the committee publishes its recommendations.
How do you tell your employer you're going through the menopause?
The hope would be that your employer has taken the necessary steps to create a menopause-friendly workplace as part of their health and safety obligation to the workforce. This gives you a clear idea of who to approach and the kind of support you'll be offered.
However, despite the progress made in recent years, this is sadly still not the case in many UK workplaces, so the onus remains on the individual to be forthright in communicating exactly in what way the perimenopause or menopause is impacting them. It can be difficult to talk to a manager about something so personal when your interactions to date have always been professional, but there are some things you can do to make the process easier to handle and more effective:
- Prepare in advance by finding out if your organisation has a policy and support system in place.
- Keep a diary noting the symptoms you're experiencing and how they are impacting your work. Having things written down will help you to explain clearly what you are experiencing and make it easier for your employer to suggest ways of supporting you. Noting that you suffer hot flushes at work, for example, could prompt an offer of a desk fan, a shift to a new location within the premises or a change in any uniform worn.
- Book the meeting with your manager or HR department in advance, so they have time to prepare.
- Agree to an action plan which will help you and can be practically supported by the organisation. Accept that they may need to seek advice from their line managers to find out exactly what the organisation can offer. If this is the case, book a follow-up meeting to review the situation at the earliest convenient date.
Having drawn up an agreed action plan, you should arrange regular follow-up meetings to review its effectiveness and make any changes needed to reflect changes in the symptoms being experienced.
Is there any legal protection for women at work who have menopause?
Currently, there is no specific legislation that protects women going through menopause. However, claims can still be made under the Equality Act 2010, which largely includes three key characteristics: age, sex and disability discrimination, or the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which covers working conditions and can be extended to reflect women whose health concerns are not being appropriately managed by the employer.
Confusingly, for employees and employers alike, the tribunals are often inconsistent with their rulings around the matter, with seemingly similar cases having very different results, especially when there is a claim of disability discrimination.
Technically, Menopause symptoms could be considered to be a Disability, providing the ailments have had (or are likely to have) a long-term, substantially detrimental impact on a person's ability to undertake normal day-to-day activities. But, whilst symptoms can impact a person's mental and physical wellbeing for a lengthy period, medically speaking, menopause is classed as a phase of life. So, although there have been a small number of notable successful disability claims made, more often than not, menopausal tribunal claims will fall under sex discrimination. This is because the claim often specifically concerns the unfair treatment of a person because of their gender. For example, an employer may be seen to be treating the menopause far less seriously than any long-standing health issues in male colleagues.
What should be noted, however, is that as it stands, caps for successful discrimination claims are unlimited.