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I am an Associate Solicitor at Ramsdens Solicitors LLP specialising in Employment Law and Commercial Litigation.
I will be speaking at the Menopause Live Conference at Halifax Victoria Theatre on 27 April 2023 about Menopause, the Workplace and the Law.
The Menopause Live Conference is bringing together specialists in the area to provide information about health related matters, employer obligations and the national movement to raise awareness about menopause.
I have not yet reached the stage in my life where I am experiencing menopause, however, it is inevitable. I am surrounded by brilliant and hardworking women in both my personal life and professional life (be it colleagues or clients) and therefore continuously learning about the impact symptoms of perimenopause and menopause can have on the working life of a woman or other people who experience the menopause such as transgender men or people with variations in sex characteristics.
I have personal experience of the effects of a hormone deficiency which shares some of the symptoms linked to perimenopause and menopause such as anxiety, headaches, difficulty concentrating, irritability and insomnia. Albeit that my experience may not reflect the more extreme symptoms found amongst people going through the menopause, I do understand how the relevant symptoms can have a detrimental impact on working life.
The average age for women going through menopause is between 45 and 55 years old, although symptoms may begin several years earlier during the perimenopausal stage.
If reasonable adjustments are not made by employers to support women experiencing symptoms, or awareness of the menopause is not raised or discussed, it could result in a loss of experienced and reliable workers (who make up a significant proportion of the workforce) by reason of them losing confidence in their ability to work or due to them erroneously being subjected to negative performance management experiences. This would in turn have a detrimental impact on the individual women who may want to stay in work as well as the employers who benefit from the skillset of those workers.
Despite menopause having always been a natural part of a woman’s lifecycle, its impact on women’s employment rights have only started to be slowly recognised in the past 10 years or so. The first Employment Tribunal case related to menopause was Merchant v BT Plc heard in 2012. In this case the Claimant, who was experiencing menopausal symptoms that were impacting on her performance at work, was placed on a performance management process and subsequently dismissed without her manager taking into consideration a letter from her General Practitioner or seeking other medical advice. The Claimant was successful in her claims for unfair dismissal and direct sex discrimination.
It is also only in the past few years that we have seen Employment Tribunal claims relating to menopause succeed on grounds of disability discrimination. As the demographic of menopausal women in the workforce increases and awareness about the symptoms improves, we are seeing a significant rise in Employment Tribunal claims relating to menopause. In 2021, there were 23 employment tribunal cases referencing menopause compared with 16 in 2020: being a 44% increase in claims (Menopause Experts Group, 2022).
If a woman is put at a disadvantage or treated less favourably because of her menopause symptoms, then it could amount to discrimination connected to a protected characteristic (being disability, sex and/or age) under the Equality Act 2010. There is therefore arguably some protection for women against discrimination connected to menopause in the workplace. However, as menopause itself is not listed as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, we, as lawyers, or women as claimants, are required to generate a narrative to fit the symptoms and circumstances into one of the already existing protected characteristics.
The Government has recently responded to the Women and Equalities Select Committee’s Menopause and the workplace report (2022) which made a range of recommendations to change employment law and workplace practice to support women going through menopause. The report cited a 2019 survey conducted by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) “…that three in five menopausal women—usually aged between 45 and 55—were negatively affected at work” (para. 5) However, the Government rejected key recommendations such as to consult on making menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 and to trial a ‘menopause leave’ policy. It is a frustrating setback by the Government to not consider recognising the menopause as a protected characteristic, but one I am reasonably confident will change in the future.
In the meantime, what can we do in the workplace to support women experiencing symptoms of menopause, limit the reduction of a good and reliable workforce and avoid legal proceedings?
1. Employers should show their awareness of the effects of the menopause by encouraging employees to talk about menopause, put in place training and information to educate its workers, make reasonable adjustments where necessary to support those experiencing symptoms (remembering not everyone experiences the same symptoms or in the same way) and seek Occupational Health assistance where necessary.
2. Individuals experiencing menopause symptoms should try to be open about their symptoms, keep a record of those symptoms and suggest ideas of what reasonable adjustments might help them work effectively. It is however appreciated that individuals will not always feel comfortable to raise their thoughts in this regard. It is therefore important for employers to create an open and informative work environment.
If you are interested in attending the Menopause Live Conference on 27 April 2023 more information can be found at www.menopauselive.co.uk.