October is Menopause Awareness Month, making it a good time to inform ourselves about a stage of life which can have a big impact on women in the workplace. From an employer’s perspective, it’s important to consider how we can help to make the workplace more comfortable for menopausal women whilst simultaneously minimising the risk of subsequent employment tribunal claims.

What is the menopause and who does it affect?

There are three different stages to the menopause:

  • Perimenopause
  • Menopause
  • Post menopause.

The symptoms of menopause can be severe and adversely affect both women’s home and work life.  It’s important for employers to be mindful of the effects of menopause which usually happens to women between 45 and 55 years of age. However, it can begin much earlier.

Employers should be mindful that menopause affects anyone with a menstrual cycle, which includes intersex women, trans and non-binary people.

What are the symptoms of menopause?

The symptoms of menopause can be both mental and physical, and women can suffer from depression, memory loss, hot flushes, sleep disturbance and heavy periods to name but a few. It’s therefore no surprise that women can find work more of a struggle and this can be made even more difficult if they work in an environment where the effects of menopause aren’t openly addressed and instead treated as a taboo topic (much like periods). In fact, 1 in 10 women left work last year due to the menopause and three-quarters of women don’t tell their employer that their sick leave is related to menopause.

Menopause and employment law

The menopause is not in itself a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, and the government has confirmed that it currently has no plans to make it one or to introduce other enhanced legal rights including menopausal leave. Nevertheless, the mistreatment of women suffering from the menopause can still amount to unlawful discrimination at work on the grounds of sex, age and disability. In fact, menopause-related employment tribunal claims have increased in recent years, and the effects of the menopause has been determined to satisfy the definition of disability under the Equality Act on numerous occasions.

The labour government has recently announced plans to bring in a requirement for large companies to create and implement menopausal action plans which contain the steps an employer has taken to support women suffering from the menopause in the workplace. Employers would then submit these plans using the same portal as that used for gender pay gap reporting.

This week, one case hit news headlines. An office manager was told by her boss that she used the menopause as an “excuse for everything” and to “just get on with it” after being absent from work and unwell due to her symptoms. She successfully sued the company for unfair dismissal and harassment and was awarded £37,000 in compensation. This timely triumph for the employee serves as a reminder to companies that it’s an issue to be taken seriously and sensitively.

For more information on the menopause and how companies can manage menopause issues in the workplace, contact Gorvins Employment team. Our expert solicitors will give you up to date knowledge and adcvice on how best to support your staff and protect your business.

Call us on 0161 930 5151, email us at employmentteam@gorvins.com or use the online form.

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