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Meno Pause for Thought

The much more (we still have some way to go) open discussions that are now happening around menopause are a good thing.  Whether your information comes from mainstream media (who eventually picked up the cry for open discussion), social media, or books written by the likes of Davina McCall or Mariella Frostrup (Cracking the Menopause is a decent read if I say so myself) who are championing the cause, we are all now much better informed.  Even the proportion of GP’s who historically frequently prescribed antidepressants to treat symptoms of menopause are now paying attention.  Whilst the symptoms of menopause are varied and frequently depressing, antidepressants are not going to relieve the suffering that some women experience – and that is the point “some”.  We should all by now know that not everyone experiences menopause in the same way or with the same severity of symptoms. However, if the scientific community has only recently woken up to personalised healthcare rather than the previous one size fits all approach how on earth are employers supposed to navigate the complexities?  Do they start the discussion? (A: Have a supportive workplace policy that encourages conversation).  How do they manage performance concerns? (A: Have a supportive conversation about performance and ask whether there are any factors that could be contributing). What about absences? (A: See above, policy plus conversation and note again the key word – supportive).


In January of this year when the Government published its response to the Women and Equalities Committee’s Menopause and the workplace report it rejected the recommendation (amongst others) to make menopause a protected characteristic.  Was that the right approach?  It certainly sparked some furious debate at the time and continues to feature in discussions about menopause and the workplace.  So, should menopause be a protected characteristic? In my (always opinionated) opinion, quite simply – nope! Legally and practically, this has to be the correct approach, not just because there are already a number of protected characteristics that will apply should an employer behave in an unfair way to someone experiencing menopausal symptoms. Make menopause a protected characteristic and every female is protected, which is normally 100% a good thing.  However, is it right to place employers in that impossible position?  Giving those who may have no symptoms or mild / manageable ones the same protection as those who find menopause crippling?  Is that fair or reasonable?  We all know that in every workplace for individuals that genuinely struggle (often in silence) there are those that ahem…. don’t play by the rules and will cry foul when there is no foul just a protected characteristic enabling them to do so.


Treat the symptoms of menopause in the same way as the symptoms that affect other areas of health, whether physical or mental, and those that suffer should be properly protected by the existing legislation.  That is not to say it should be treated as a sickness (which quite clearly it is not) but that employers should consider the impact the individual’s symptoms are having, and whether those symptoms may amount to a disability (which in severe cases they will) and, if so, make appropriate adjustments.  Or just be a decent employer, and human being, and skip the “disability consideration” and consider what can be done to support the individual to enable them to continue performing their role, rather than as many do, leave employment and contribute to the disastrous brain drain that business tend to see when individuals who are already juggling too much are pushed over the edge by menopause symptoms.


Employers need to be mindful of the protections afforded by legislation concerning age, disability, sex and / or gender reassignment.  Employees experiencing menopause symptoms should ensure that they are aware of their rights, clear about their symptoms and what they need to be able to do in their jobs.  Employers need to create a workplace where that conversation can occur comfortably and without judgment.  Equally they should be mindful that failing to afford appropriate support may well result in claims of discrimination and unfair dismissal not to mention the loss of significant workplace talent – and that can’t be a good thing for anyone!


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