Menopause in the workplace

Menopause in the workplace

A few years ago the words ‘menopause’ and ‘workplace’ were hardly found or spoken in the same sentence, however menopause in the workplace is an important issue.  This was still a taboo subject and something a woman experienced alone.  Employers were blind to this as an occupational issue and women were reluctant to raise their concerns.  Fast forward to the last few years and some organisations are alive to these considerations with policies being rolled out, cases starting to reach the employment tribunal with women, including celebrities, increasingly likely to speak out about their experiences.

Women now account for almost half the workforce in the UK and most women of menopausal age will encounter this during their working lives.  In fact estimates show that there are approximately 4.3 million employed women age 45-60 in the UK accounting for the fastest growing group of workers.

The menopause is a natural transition in a woman’s life and women experience this with different degrees of impact.  Three in four will experience symptoms and one in four will be seriously impacted both personally and professionally.  Symptoms typically start in a woman’s fifties or a little earlier. They can be short lived or last for years.  They may include physical symptoms such heavy and painful periods, hot flushes, headaches, weight gain and fatigue.  Psychological symptoms may involve anxiety, panic attacks, mood swings, poor concentration, poor memory recall and insomnia.

After the challenges of pregnancy, maternity and having young children, women may then return to work for a few years before experiencing these issues.  Without the appropriate recognition and support in place, this is not going to help equality in the workplace and the gender pay gap statistics.

Coping with menopausal symptoms whilst working can be a challenge.  This can impact on performance, wellbeing, confidence and attendance.   Some symptoms are so severe they consider there is no alternative other than to resign which represents a huge loss of talent.   Unsurprisingly many women are reluctant or uncomfortable to raise their concerns with their manager.  However, a failure to support women witnessing a menopause at work or any associated less favorable treatment could constitute discrimination on the grounds of sex, disability or age.  Negative treatment at work could also give rise to claims for unfair dismissal or constructive dismissal and in severe cases, disability discrimination, if symptoms are having a substantial adverse impact on day to day ability.

The menopause is an occupational health and wellbeing priority.  There should be increased employer and manager awareness of the issues, training delivered with managers alive to issues such as a dip in performance or increased sickness absence.  A policy should be implemented.  The role of HR is key.  There needs to be a supportive culture of inclusivity, respect, diversity and equality. So, managers need to put more thought towards menopause in the workplace to support their staff. Consideration should also be given to the working environment such as office temperatures, ventilation and the access to quiet and restful spaces.  Other wellbeing support should be available for those who need it. This will help with engaging and retaining women in the workplace, improved performance and employee wellness and morale more generally. 

Further guidance regarding menopause in the workplace can be found on the ACAS website here

This blog is by Caroline Oliver, Senior Solicitor at Didlaw