The Woman and Equalities Committee (WEC) published its Menopause and the Workplace report in July, where it recommended that the Government add menopause as the 10th protected characteristic to the Equality Act 2010 in order to stop ‘highly skilled and experienced’ women from leaving the workforce. Here, we explore menopause in the workplace and employment law.
Menopause in the workplace – how are women supported?
Menopause, which typically affects women between the ages of 45 and 55, causes a range of physical and/or psychological symptoms such as hot flushes, sleep disruption, headaches, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and poor concentration. Considering menopausal symptoms can last for up to 10 years, it is vital sufferers are supported in the workplace.
With the retirement age now at 68, today’s aging workforce means more employees are working through menopause than ever before. According to the Government Report on Menopause, menopausal women are the fastest-growing workforce demographic in the UK. Because of this, there have been calls for employers and the government to recognise the challenges faced by employees experiencing menopause.
Currently, there is no legislation specifically relating to menopause. However, under the Equality Act 2010, menopause discrimination may be covered under three protected characteristics: age, sex, and disability discrimination. Furthermore, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 provides for safe working conditions. This protection can extend to staff experiencing menopause whose health concerns are not being appropriately managed by their employer.
While menopause can potentially be seen as a disability under section 6 of the Equality Act due to its long-term and detrimental impact on a person’s capacity to undertake day-to-day activities, it is more likely that tribunal claims will be made for sex discrimination. These claims are often specifically concerned with the unfair treatment of a person due to their gender and the health issues related to that gender.
How can employers support employees going through the menopause?
Taking steps to support employees can help protect employees from potential claims in an employment tribunal. Acas suggests several strategies that employers may want to follow to facilitate a supportive working environment for employees experiencing menopause.
By educating the workplace through training sessions and events, employees will understand the symptoms and effects of menopause. This will enable managers to deal with menopause issues sensitively and fairly. In turn, employees may gain more confidence to talk to their managers about these issues.
Having a dedicated menopause champion in the workplace as a point of contact for those affected by menopause may put these individuals at ease if they are not comfortable talking to their managers at first instance.
Developing and implementing a menopause policy can reassure employees that there is support available by providing an overview of reasonable workplace adjustments that could be made. A policy will also encourage open communication between employees and managers.
As explained above, employers are responsible for the health and safety of all staff under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Employers must carry out regular risk assessments to ensure that their employees’ working environments remain safe and healthy. For staff experiencing menopausal symptoms, this could include the temperature and ventilation of the workplace.
If you’d like to discuss this in further detail or request advice when it comes to employment law, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our team here.