Menopause and the workplace: Updated guidance is on the way
In a world where we are increasingly aware of our health and safety, where covid has taught us to look after ourselves and others, it feels like now is the right time to be turning our attention to something that is long overdue - how do you manage staff sickness for menopause symptoms?
Cases in point
Despite many women experiencing crippling symptoms, workplaces are still largely unequipped to arrange cover at short notice, offer advice or access to support services. In fact, it seems there are still cases being reported where women are being exposed to derogatory terms and ageism relating to the menopause. A recent news article told how one lady in Essex took her employer to court and won after he’d said that "she must be on her menopause" on 20 March 2020 during an argument about a mix-up with orders.
There was a further case Rooney v Leicester City Council, which was decided shortly before World Menopause Day on 18 October 2021. Mrs Rooney was a childcare social worker for Leicester City Council until she resigned from her post. She brought a number of claims against her employer, including a claim for disability discrimination, relying on menopause as her disability.
Although the original employment tribunal did not accept that Mrs Rooney was disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act 2020, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) disagreed. It held that her symptoms were having a significant impact on her day-to-day activities and that they had lasted or were likely to last longer than 12 months and accordingly the employment tribunal had wrongly decided that Mrs Rooney was not disabled.
In addition to protecting an employee from disability discrimination, the Equality Act 2010 still also protects workers against age and sex discrimination. Of course, the menopause is uniquely suffered by women in a certain age range. Plus, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 states an employer must be mindful and ensure the mental and physical health of all staff are prioritised where practical and possible to do so.
In October 2019 new ACAS Guidance was published on helping to manage the impact of menopause at work and issued the following guidelines for employers:
- Develop a menopause policy and listen to views from employees as part of the process. It is often helpful to engage with any female affinity/employee network group as part of consultation about the policy.
- Act on any inappropriate or underlying banter around women which can have an impact on self-esteem and confidence.
- Equip managers to have supportive conversations with their employees through training and workshops.
- Enable reasonable adjustments where they would make a real difference, such as flexibility with duties or hours or permitting working from home where practicable
Fortunately, we are also seeing employers becoming more proactive too. In the legal profession, we’re starting to see more people coming forward and asking either how to deal with someone who is taking long periods of absence, or how they could offer support to people going through symptoms and how to manage workload.
Women over the age of 50 are a fast-growing demographic in many workplaces, and with increasing evidence that unsupported menopausal women are leaving the workplace, the support they need is becoming a key issue for UK employers.
Recognising these challenges, the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee launched an inquiry into workplace issues surrounding menopause earlier in 2021, looking into whether enough is being done to support menopausal women, the extent and nature of any discrimination being experienced and whether further legislation is needed, including a requirement for employers to have a menopause policy in place.
The inquiry closed in mid-September, and we await details of its findings and the extent to which there will be any legal reform in this area.
In the meantime, if you would like any advice in this area, either as an employer or an employee, contact Downs Solicitors to see how we can help.