4:30 AM 15th November 2021
Employers Must Increase Support For Workers Experiencing Menopause To Avoid Claims Of DiscriminationMarie Horner, partner in employment law at Langleys Solicitors
writes about the need to understand the menopause.
Photo: Silviarita / Pixabay
A lack of awareness surrounding the symptoms of menopause is a growing issue for many businesses. Symptoms of the menopause can severely affect how well women perform at work and particularly affect women between the ages of 40-50 years old. While symptoms vary from person to person, they can be extremely severe and can last many years, consequently having a huge impact on the individual both in their personal and professional life.
As 40 to 59-year-old’s are the fastest-growing working demographic in the UK, it is a condition affecting a large proportion of today’s workforce. Employers are under pressure to put suitable arrangements in place to help workers suffering from symptoms, but, if this is not addressed, businesses could find themselves facing a costly tribunal.
But what are the main signs of menopause that employers should be mindful of and what are some of the legal consequences that businesses could face if they fail to support staff?
Menopause can have varying symptoms. However, the most common symptoms include anxiety and panic attacks, hot sweats, an inability to concentrate, difficulty sleeping, muscle joint stiffness, headaches including migraines, taking longer to recover from illness, depression, and urinary problems. If employees are struggling with these symptoms and seek support from their employer, it is important that they are listened to and adjustments made where possible to reduce the possibility of claims of discrimination.
What are the legal consequences surrounding menopause in the workplace?
There are various legal issues pertinent to employing women experiencing the menopause, which mean that employers must take the effects of menopause seriously when handling their employees’ concerns.
A recent case ruled that it was a discriminatory act for an employer to dismiss a woman showing a dip in performance due to the symptoms of menopause. This is in line with the Equality Act 2010, where age, gender and disability discrimination are all potentially applicable to organisational practices that disadvantage women suffering with symptoms of menopause. Previous successful cases include those where women have claimed that they have been discriminated against when they have explained that it is the menopause affecting their work yet have still been dismissed.
Employers should also remember that menopause-related discrimination can occur in other contexts. For example, where the menopausal symptoms are so severe that they amount to a disability but employers have failed to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the difficulties. As previously mentioned, blanket policies and practices which unfairly disadvantage those experiencing the symptoms of menopause might also amount to indirect discrimination.
Menopause is also covered by the Health and Safety Act 1974 which requires safe working conditions, which extends to those for workers with menopausal symptoms.
So, how can employers support their employees who are experiencing menopause?
It can be difficult for women to discuss the menopause with their employer, as per data from the Government Equalities office. This can often be due to employees feeling uncomfortable in bringing up the issue or being unsure of how their employer may react. It is important that employees are made to feel comfortable talking about it and extra training for HR teams to enable them to provide tailored support might be prudent.
Below are some practical steps that can be taken by companies to support their workers with menopause:
Set out a menopause policy
Introducing a menopause policy that sets out how staff can raise issues concerning menopause is helpful. For example, working with the HR department to outline best practices for dealing with menopause and ensuring staff are up-to-date with where they can find the right support.
It may also be a good idea to provide the option for people to talk to someone other than their line managers, such as an internal wellbeing champion who can give advice or even consult managers on the staff member’s behalf.
Ensure menopausal symptoms are not made worse by conditions in the workplace
Being mindful of how the workplace may exacerbate symptoms of menopause is also crucial. For example, ensuring the workspace is properly ventilated, so it is not too warm for people with menopausal symptoms, shows a commitment to supporting those employees. Employers might benefit from conducting a risk assessment and perhaps requesting feedback from staff via an anonymous survey to thoroughly understand where changes might be useful in the workplace.
Similarly, consulting a worker who has highlighted a concern around the menopause and asking them how the workplace could be made more comfortable, shows a willingness to listen and support their condition.
Training all managers, supervisors and team leaders to ensure that they fully understand how perimenopause and menopause can affect their workers, can be a beneficial step. Discussing best practice for how to have a conversation with a worker raising concerns about this subject, as well as making them aware of the legal consequences of not taking menopause seriously, can help to best prepare senior managers for dealing with menopause in the workplace effectively.
Similarly, adequate menopause training can allow businesses to manage expectations around sickness absence or a potential dip in performance for employees experiencing menopause and enables these managers to respond sensitively. Training can help leaders to be more sympathetic around the wellbeing of staff and helps to foster a positive and accommodating workspace.
With more people working for longer, menopause is affecting large proportions of the workforce in the UK. The potential cost of choosing not to take this issue seriously can be significant. According to Oxford Economics, the cost of recruiting a replacement for a woman earning £30k per annum can be over £25,000. With the growing understanding of how the Equality Act 2010 can protect women experiencing symptoms of menopause in the workplace the number of tribunal cases brought against employers will likely increase.. Therefore, businesses must be aware of their legal obligations surrounding the menopause and how to properly handle staff who are experiencing its symptoms.
At Langleys, we are committed to helping all of those who may be legally affected by the issues mentioned above. For more information visit www.langleys.com