Menopause At Work
Women over the age of 50 is the fastest growing demographic in the workplace, which is currently 5 million workers. Despite this, many employers do not have any form of menopause workplace policy.
The menopause usually takes place between the ages of 45 and 55 and the average age to reach menopause in the UK is 51 years old and around 1 in 100 women will go through the transition before the age of 40.
A workplace survey found that 88% of the women surveyed stated that the menopause has had an impact on their working life. 30% of the women surveyed had taken sick leave for the symptoms of menopause at work. However, due to stigma, embarrassment and fear of not being offered promotions, only 22% of the women actually informed their employer that the menopause was the reason for their sick leave. It is estimated that 1 million people have left their jobs as a result of issues relating to menopause at work.
Symptoms of the menopause last for an average of 8 years with 1 in 10 women suffering with symptoms for up to 12 years. The most common symptoms include:
- Excessive bleeding; anaemia.
- Recurrent urinary tract infections.
- Hot flushes.
- Changes in sleep patterns, night sweats, difficulty sleeping.
- Feeling tired, fatigued and lacking energy.
- Problems with memory, concentration and focus.
- Low mood, anxiety, heightened stress, panic attacks.
- Heart palpitations.
- Headaches and migraines.
- Joint stiffness, aches, pains.
- Reduced muscle mass and weakened bones; and
- Increased risk of heart disease
The menopause at work remaining unaddressed is having a negative effect on career progression, pay, job retention and mental health of employees resulting in the unfortunate loss of highly skilled senior staff from the workplace. It can also result in legal liability for employers by giving rise to claims for age, sex and/or disability related discrimination. Poor performance and capability dismissals could be due to the symptoms of menopause at work and therefore could lead to unfair dismissal or constructive unfair dismissal.
Disability under section 6 of the Equality Act 2010 is:
- A mental or physical impairment
- Which is long term meaning it has or will last for more than 12 months.
- Which has an adverse effect on day-to-day activities meaning that essentially the condition must have a more than trivial impact on normal day-to-day activities.
Those suffering with the menopause at work may fall within the current definition of disability. Parliament is considering inserting menopause in to the Equality Act 2010 similar to that of cancer.
There are six forms of disability discrimination:
- Direct discrimination – Less favourable treatment because of a disability.
- Indirect discrimination: A policy, criterion or practice that is applied to all, but puts those with a disability at a disadvantage which is not a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
- Harassment: Unwanted conduct, related to a person’s disability, which has the purpose or effect of either violating dignity or creating a hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
- Victimisation: Subjecting someone to a detriment because they have done or may do a protected act (including doing anything for the purposes of or in connection with the Equality Act 2010).
- Failure to make reasonable adjustments for disability: Employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to that which causes a substantial disadvantage to an employee such as a provision, criterion or practice, a physical feature. Employers also have the duty to provide an auxiliary aid if relevant.
- Discrimination arising from disability: Unfavourable treatment because of something arising in consequence of disability, without objective justification.
In order to support employees suffering with the menopause at work and to help prevent potential related claims, it is recommended that employers:
- Carry out regular health and safety assessments;
- Provide training on the menopause;
- Actively encourage self-assessment and reporting of symptoms;
- Have a menopause workplace policy in place;
- Reduce stigma; and
- Provide support and adjustments.
Adjustments for those going through the menopause at work could include:
- temperature control such as provisions of desk fans;
- access to rest facilities;
- flexible working;
- more frequent rest breaks; and
- changes to work allocation.
For those suffering with numerous symptoms of the menopause at work employers should consider instructing occupational health who can provide suggestions for additional adjustments.
Further guidance relating to menopause at work can be found at:
- The British Menopause Society
- The Faculty of Occupational Medicine
- The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)