Legal advice: Menopause at work – understanding your rights

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It is a disease that affects 50% of the world’s population and can lead to severe physical symptoms and mental anguish that can last for many years.

And yet, women going through menopause often face discrimination, belittlement and shame when their symptoms affect them at work.

Women going through perimenopause and menopause will often face discriminatory comments disguised as “jokes” or “jokes,” as well as a lack of understanding from employers if their symptoms begin to impact their performance.

According to a 2019 survey conducted by BUPA and the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD)three out of five women are negatively affected by the symptoms of menopause at work.

She also revealed that nearly 900,000 women had left their jobs indefinitely directly due to the effects of menopause.

A lack of understanding

Many people will probably be able to name one or two better-known symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes or memory loss. What is less understood is the range and severity of symptoms the disease can have, including:

  • Insomnia
  • Heart palpitations
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Weight gain
  • Dry and itchy skin
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Brain fog, memory loss and concentration problems
  • Bad mood, anxiety and low self-esteem

There are other symptoms that may not directly affect women in the workplace, such as low libido and discomfort during intimacy, which may nonetheless contribute to their overall mood or self-esteem.

And yet, menopause is a subject that is often the subject of jokes in the workplace. As a result, many women find that they are not taken seriously and do not receive the support they need to continue to be successful in their role.

According to a recent study, 76% of postmenopausal women said they would like to see better support from their employer, but more than half (53%) also said they did not feel comfortable raise the issue with their supervisor or employer.

And one in five suggested that a male-dominated workplace or a male manager was the main reason for their discomfort.

Natasha Moore of Woodfine Solicitors
Natasha Moore of Woodfine Solicitors

The legal situation

Employers should be aware of several pieces of legislation relating to the treatment of postmenopausal women in the workplace, including:

  • The Equality Act 2010, which protects workers’ ‘protected characteristics’ against discrimination
  • The Occupational Health and Safety Act, which states that employers must ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees when reasonably possible to do so

Although menopause is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, employers who discriminate against a postmenopausal woman could find themselves facing a claim about another protected characteristic, such as gender, age or disability. .

Similarly, employers who have failed in their duty to look after an employee’s health and welfare at work could also expose themselves to claims under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Case law shows new precedent for menopause-related claims

In recent years, the number of employment tribunals related to menopause has increased considerably. There was six such complaints in 201916 in 2020 and 23 in 2021.

Many of these tribunals resulted in landmark judgments that set precedent for how menopause cases should be approached in the future.

For example, in AV Bonmarche Ltd [2019]A woman humiliated by her boss in front of younger employees, called a “dinosaur” and subjected to demeaning comments about her menopausal symptoms, has had her claim of gender and age discrimination upheld by a court.

And in Rooney v Leicester City Council [2021]Maria Rooney has filed a gender and disability discrimination claim against her employer after receiving a formal warning following sick leave without regard to her severe menopausal symptoms.

Although the tribunal initially dismissed her claims, the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that Ms Rooney’s menopausal symptoms did in fact amount to a disability, i.e. a significant, long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out daily activities.

Menopause and modern labor

With all of this in mind, how can employers today support postmenopausal women in the workplace and reduce the risk of harmful job applications? Here are a few :

Adopt a workplace menopause policy that outlines the company’s approach to supporting menopausal women and how discrimination and harassment will be addressed

Provide employees with training and information so that you as a workplace all have a better understanding of the symptoms of menopause and the impact it can have

Create a culture of openness around menopause and encourage employees to speak with their supervisor if their menopause symptoms affect their work

Appoint a “menopause champion” – a designated point of contact that women can talk to if they don’t feel comfortable approaching their manager in the first place

Perform a risk assessment to understand the needs and experiences of postmenopausal women in the workplace.

Take advice and specialist advice

If you’re an employer who is serious about improving your company’s response to women with menopausal symptoms, we can help.

Our employment lawyers are on hand to provide strategic advice and guidance, develop new policies and procedures, and keep you up to date on the latest developments in this evolving field.

Why not chat with us to see what we can do for you? Just give us a call on 0344 967 2505 or email [email protected] to find out more.

by Natasha Moore
Employment Lawyer, Woodfines Solicitors

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