More women are now working until later in life. The ONS survey from 2015 suggested that 4.3 million women aged 50 or over were in employment. Since then the number or women in employment over 50 has increased due to an increase in female state pension age and the current post Covid and Brexit economic climate, resulting in more financial pressures with individuals working for longer. This means that more working women than ever before will experience the menopause transition during their working life.
Are employers and employees sufficiently appraised of what exactly the menopause is and how this can affect individuals?
The menopause has historically been and is arguably still a bit of a taboo subject generally and especially in the workplace. However, given that there has been a 44% increase of Employment Tribunal discrimination and unfair dismissal claims that have citied menopause and a 75% increase in mentions of the word ‘menopause’ in tribunal documents, it is clear that more education is required in order to ensure that women feel supported by their employers, and that employers do not find themselves defending tribunal claims unnecessarily.
The Women & Equalities Committee of the House of Commons has published its response to an independent report proposing various changes to employment law and practice to help women who are going through the menopause.
Unfortunately, most of the recommendations were rejected by the government including the following;
- Production of model menopause policies for employers including the development and piloting of a menopause leave policy with a large national employer
- Declining to amend the Equality Act 2010 to introduce a new protected characteristic of menopause or, introduce a new duty to make reasonable adjustments for menopausal employees.
The Committee did however support one proposal: introducing a national ‘Menopause Employment Champion’ to produce a report every six months on the progress made to support those going through the menopause.
Employers now need to take this into their own hands and take the initiative in how to manage menopause in the workplace, and there are 4 compelling reasons to do so;
- Business / Financial – women in the workplace are often at a senior level when they are affected by the menopausal transition. Failure to understand and support these individuals can result in a business losing significant knowledge and experience along with high re-recruitment costs for their replacement. Furthermore, the ONS stats from 2018 suggest that 14million days in 1 year are lost due to menopausal symptoms, resulting in enormous cost and disruption. It could be argued that the actual lost days are be significantly higher as many may not disclose the real reason for their absence.
- Social Responsibility – menopause needs to be spoken about openly, just like pregnancy and maternity. Supporting women through the menopausal transition is the right thing to do so that they can continue to work for as long as they want to.
- Demographic – women are now working for longer and women aged 50 -64 are the fastest growing demographic. Circa a quarter of all women in employment are between the ages of 45 and 54.
- Legal – even though the Government had confirmed that it has no plans to make the menopause a protected characteristic in itself under the Equality Act, there is a real risk of an Employment Tribunal claim. This is where the employer’s treatment of a woman can lead to age, sex, disability discrimination and unfair dismissal claims. A good example of how not to behave as an employer can be seen in the case of A vs. Bonmarche Ltd (2019).
In this case the claimant said she had been subjected to harassment and abuse over a continuous period because she was female and going through menopause. The employee had long service and a good record. She started suffering from menopausal symptoms in 2017. She felt unduly criticised and humiliated by her supervisor, providing many examples of this in her evidence;
- Demeaned her in front of colleagues
- Called her a ‘dinosaur’
- Criticised her unnecessarily and related this to her being menopausal
- Refused to adjust the temperature in the shop.
She also had a statement of the impact on her health and wellbeing and information from her GP.
Her line manager refused to discuss her menopause issues or offer any help or support. When she escalated this, she was told to not take any further action and it would be dealt with, but no action was taken. Ultimately, she had a breakdown and needed time off work. On her return, she agreed shorter hours with the HR representative These were withdrawn by her line manager after her first week back. At this point she resigned. She was unable to work for nine months due to depression and anxiety and then had to take a lower-paid job.
The judge referred to the definition of direct discrimination, section 13 of the Equality Act 2010. The judge stated that a comparator would be an employee who wasn’t female and of menopausal age and he felt the comments specifically related to the claimant’s characteristics and he believed these wouldn’t have been said to someone who did not have those characteristics.
The judge also referred to the definition of harassment, section 26 of the Equality Act 2010 and felt in no doubt that the respondent was guilty of harassment. He believed they had created a hostile environment for the claimant and that this was related to her status as a woman going through the menopause. He considered this to amount to unlawful harassment on the grounds of age and sex.
Although there was no claim of constructive dismissal the judge agreed that the claimant had resigned from her position as a result of the discrimination and harassment.
The total awarded was £27,975 which equated to £9,975 for loss of earnings and £18,000 for injury to feeling. The true cost of defending a claim in the Tribunal is significantly more than the award itself and it does not take into account the legal costs and the costs of management time and of course, the intangible costs such as stress on the management and reputation of the employer.
This tribunal decision should serve as a warning to employers that menopause is not a subject to be dismissed and managers must be prepared to have productive conversations and be supportive. Employers need to ensure that where they have introduced policies and processes, and that managers are adhering to these. Failing to do so can be extremely costly.
With all this talk about the menopause, what actually is the menopause?
It is a natural / psychological ageing process affecting women between the ages of 45-58 years. The average age in the UK is 51. It should be noted however that menopause can affect women who are also much younger than 45 years old.
The menopause occurs once menstrual cycles have stopped for 12 months. It is a moment in time. Prior to this time, women will be in the peri-menopausal phase where they will still experience menstrual cycles but may start to experience symptoms, these symptoms can vary in severity and can start and stop or be continuous. Some women breeze through a problem-free menopause, but most experience some symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Women also experience post-menopause symptoms which means they can experience various symptoms for many years.
It is important to stress that menopause can be experienced by anyone who has experienced female puberty even where they no longer identify as a woman.
The most common physical symptoms can include the following;
- Weight gain
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Gritty eyes
- Join & Muscle pain
- Itchy skin
- Thinning hair
- Urinary frequency / urgency
*this list is not exhaustive
Physical symptoms may present along with psychological symptoms which can include the following;
- Brain fog
- Poor memory
- Low mood
- Reduced motivation and interest
- Lack of focus / concentration
- Low self-esteem and confidence
- Reduced zest for life
*this list is not exhaustive
Data from the British Menopause Society (BMS) explains how the menopause has an effect on personal relationships, social lives and also relationships at work with 45% saying that menopause symptoms have a negative impact on work with only 47% telling their employer.
Research suggests that the reasons why women don’t discuss symptoms with their employer are:
- They didn’t think they could help
- It’s none of their business
- They didn’t think the employer would understand
- They were embarrassed
- They feared they would be demoted or lose their job
So, when the very small number of women told their employers what help were they offered?
A staggering 47% of employers offered no help at all! Of the 53% that did offer help, what did this look like?
- Flexible working options
- Specific interventions
- Ensured organisational training
- Offered an introduction to a healthcare professional
How can employers support employees at work?
- Raise awareness for all employees, colleagues and managers
- Provide easy lines of communication and normalise discussions, providing a culture where women feel comfortable about discussing their symptoms and what impact they have on their working lives
- Create a menopause policy for everyone to refer to including options around flexible working hours and arrangements to help manage symptoms
- Provide options to improve the work environment temperature and ventilation
- Appoint Menopause ‘Mentors’ in the business
- Facilitate easy access to menopause care and treatment
By talking about it openly, raising awareness and putting the right support in place, we can get to a point where menopause is no longer an issue in the workplace at all. Normalising menopause at work and is the right thing to do. Women who feel supported are happier and more committed and satisfied.
The Absolute Works can help by helping you create a strategy for educating the workforce and implement effective policies. We can advise on any tricky, sensitive or difficult issues related to menopause such as performance, absence or requests from employees for adjustments to help manage symptoms. We can help you manage the risk of legal challenge in the Employment Tribunal, saving you money, time and an unhappy and demotivated workforce. Give the team a call on 0333 200 5153 or email email@example.com