World Menopause Day

18th October 2023

World Menopause Day

Today, 18th October, is World Menopause Day.

With more and more women citing menopause in Employment Tribunal claims for unfair dismissal, sex, and age discrimination (and in some cases disability discrimination) than ever before, it’s a timely reminder for employers to look at what they are doing to support women through this life stage.

The menopause can have a significant impact on an employee’s performance and attendance with a wide range of unpleasant (and in some cases, debilitating) symptoms. Providing appropriate help and support can assist in reducing this impact; ensuring that valued, experienced employees don’t leave the business prematurely; and reduce the risk of claims.

The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) requires employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all workers.  In the case of menopausal women, this could include risk assessments that consider their specific needs, to make sure the working environment does not make symptoms worse, for example because of an over-heated or poorly ventilated office, and that welfare is supported through facilities such as toilets and access to water.

The menopause can, in some cases, amount to a disability, which can give rise to a duty to make reasonable adjustments.

In addition to providing protection for disabled employees, the Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination because of or related to sex, whether directly, indirectly, or by harassment.  An example in the case of menopause could be where an employer does not consider symptoms arising from the menopause to be mitigating factors in reviewing performance, where similar symptoms due to another condition would be considered for male workers.

Although an extreme (and one hopes, an exceptional) example, an Employment Tribunal case reported last week (Farquharson v Thistle Marine) demonstrates how constructive dismissal and sex harassment can arise in this context. The employee was experiencing serious physical menopause symptoms, as well as anxiety, loss of concentration and brain fog, of which her employer was aware. After working from home for a couple of days due to heavy menopausal bleeding, on her return to work a director commented:

“Oh I see you’ve made it in!” and expressed disgust and walked away from her when she tried to explain. A further conversation then took place in which the director said “menopause, menopause a’biddy f**king gets it, just get on wi’ it, that’s your excuse for everything” and “a’biddy has aches and pains”. After raising a grievance that was not acknowledged and then discovering that her remote access had been cut off, preventing her from working from home, she brought claims of unfair constructive dismissal, sex harassment, and unpaid wages and succeeded with all three claims. The employer was ordered to pay her £37,000 in compensation.

As we say, an extreme example, but employers need to be aware that even less serious comments where there was no intention of causing offence, e.g. jokes about brain fog, could result in successful claims for harassment.

So, what can employers do to support employees going through the perimenopause or menopause? Employers can start by implementing a workplace policy which:

  • provides information explaining what the menopause is and how it can affect women;
  • seeks to break down taboos by encouraging open conversations in the workplace;
  • explains the importance of workplace risk assessments to support the health and well-being of women going through the menopause;
  • provides examples of specific support and adjustments for common symptoms to help guide managers and employees; and
  • provides guidance on what to do when an employee seeks help.

Training on the menopause and on the policy, particularly for managers, will be an important next step to ensure that the policy is properly and effectively implemented. Not only will the combination of a policy and training reduce the risk of claims but could help provide a defence in the event of a discrimination claim.

If you’d like help preparing a menopause policy or would like to find out about the training we can provide, please contact Marie Allen on 01473 298133 or by email at [email protected]

 

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