Let's talk about Menopause in the work place - Interview with GWR (Great Western railway)
In June 2022, the Employment Team at Downs Solicitors LLP, held a webinar discussing menopause in the workplace and emphasised that it was something that needed further recognition amongst employees and employers. If issues or concerns are not addressed in the right way, some instances could lead to an Employment Tribunal case. This is a growing area of difficulty for employers; Employment Tribunals involving menopause increased by 44% in 2021, with 23 cases referencing it compared to 16 the previous year, according to analysis of court data by the Menopause Experts Group. The webinar was designed to be a tool to inform employers of the significance of the symptoms women face and show what role an employer can play in providing support.
Meet Lucy Shephard - Wellbeing Manager from GWR
Following this, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak with Lucy Shephard, Wellbeing Manager from Great Western Railway (GWR) about their progressive approach to menopause in the workplace. We discussed the disappointment with the recent resistance from the Government to adopt recommendations from the Women and Equalities Committee report, namely, to recognise menopause as an independent protected characteristic, and, turned to look at GWR’s health and wellbeing approach, and their continued plans to take action in this area.
With a workforce of approximately 7,000 people, 15% being women, Lucy explained how important a proactive, educational approach was. GWR have a menopause policy in place (which is not mandatory for employers), which includes the steps women should take if they are struggling and gives suggestions for line managers about what adjustments could be made. They also have Menopause Advocates, Mental Health First Aiders and are looking to become Menopause Accredited. Becoming accredited will help to standardise the approach across the whole company and will be a formal recognition of GWR’s committed approach. Underneath the policies and procedures, Lucy highlights that the foundation to it all is encouraging communication and awareness. GWR recently had a “Menopause Bear” which travelled the railway network and was an opportunity for anyone to get involved in the conversation surrounding menopause. Lucy explained that this was one of the most effective ways of opening meaningful dialogue amongst colleagues and providing useful information to remove the stigma around the experience for women (and men).
For GWR, it is not just a ‘tick box’ exercise and this is something that the Employment Team at Downs always try to promote as well. Many employers may ask why this is necessary, and especially if they only have a small number of employees. However, having open channels of communication, on any area, will hopefully avoid complications in the future. Most employers would want to avoid embarking on a burdensome procedure, such as long-term sickness absence, performance, or capability procedure and instead would prefer to resolve any matters as soon as possible in a positive way. This is more likely to happen if employees feel they can speak about what they are going through and will be listened to.
Employers have responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, but in the current economic climate, there are growing business expenses and losing valuable staff can create further costs, particularly recruitment and training. Having a work environment that promotes inclusion and support, will help with retaining staff and growing a diverse, creative and enjoyable workplace environment. Furthermore, women of menopausal age are often reaching the peak of their careers and are often embarking on leadership positions. If organisations want to level the scales in terms of the number of women in leadership roles and the gender pay gap, then menopause is an issue that can’t be ignored.
We are keeping an eye on legal developments as the Government have confirmed that they will be supporting the proposal to introduce a national ‘Menopause Employment Champion’ to produce a report every six months on the progress made to support those going through the menopause. It will be interesting to see what the reports reveal and what further action this could lead to.
In the meantime, please contact us if you need any advice regarding this or any other employment law issue. With regards to menopause we can assist in various ways. Such as drafting a menopause policy, advising in relation to a particular employment situation involving menopause including advice on adjustments the employer may need to consider to comply with its legal obligations. A link to the previous Downs webinar is here.
Please contact Elizabeth Barrett on firstname.lastname@example.org or your usual contact in the Employment Team for assistance.