Women over the age of 50 are the fastest growing group in the workforce. Whilst not all women will experience severe symptoms of the menopause, for those that do their work and home lives are likely to be significantly affected. Effectively handling the issues that this group face is a more and more important aspect of people management. According to an independent report commissioned by the government:
- People over 50 make up 1/3 of the working age population (compared to ¼ 25 years ago).
- Perimenopause symptoms will last 4 years on average.
- 25% of women consider giving up work as a result of menopause symptoms.
- Almost a million women have left the workplace due to menopause symptoms.
- Around 400k women start the menopause each year.
A survey by BUPA and the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development suggested that on average three out of every five menopausal women are adversely affected at work every year, which comes to over a million workers. That’s a lot of lost or struggling talent – perhaps helping to explain why the number of Employment Tribunal claims which relate to menopause has quadrupled over the last 5 years.
Menopause can cause a variety of symptoms (according to the NHS), including hot flushes, night sweats, low mood, anxiety, problems with memory and concentration, discomfort during sex and reduce sex drive. Many of which are likely to have a significant impact not only on homelife but also on workplace performance. Due to the success of recent awareness campaigns menopause is being talked about more than it has ever been however, there remains a general lack of understanding about the condition and how employers can help those experiencing symptoms. Perhaps evidenced by the fact that the In November 2021 the minister for employment called upon employers to provide stronger career support to keep those experiencing the menopause in work.
There is an ongoing parliamentary consultation assessing whether the existing legislative framework adequately protects women going through the menopause. Currently claims would need to be brought either on the grounds of sex discrimination, age discrimination or disability discrimination – a definition which many would certainly meet.
- Under the Equality Act 2010 a person is disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long term (12 months) adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Symptoms of menopause can be both physical and psychological and, although severity can vary significantly multiple Tribunals have held that they can amount to a disability.
Whether or not consultation determines that the menopause should be protected under the Equality Act 2010 in its own right, is somewhat immaterial. Whilst it would raise awareness and perhaps force employers to consider more supportive action, it is clear that those experiencing symptoms are already protected and employers would be wise to be more supportive (as many are) if they are to improve talent retention, and lower litigation risk. ACAS has produced guidance advising employers that fail to engage with staff about the menopause risk running foul of discrimination laws. For any other potentially disability employers would consider (or should consider) making reasonable adjustments in order to reduce the risk of detriment – menopause is no different.
Ultimately, communication, raising awareness and training for managers must form a central part of any employer’s strategy to support those experiencing menopause symptoms. Employers would be well advised to consider implementing a separate policy providing guidance about the support available to staff. The central messages of this policy should be reflected throughout the employer’s HR practices which is likely to mean reviewing and updating equality, diversity and inclusion policies as well as performance and sickness absence processes.
Employers that fail to implement appropriate support and make appropriate adjustments when considering working practices, appraisal benchmarks, sickness absence and performance management are increasingly likely to face lengthy and costly litigation. Employers that fail to consider and properly address offensive, dismissive or derisory comments about menopause symptoms are likely to face claims of harassment. Either way employers failing to support those experiencing menopausal symptoms are at significant risk of losing talent.
- Introduce a menopause policy to raise awareness inform leaders, line managers and employees of the company’s process for anyone needing support.
- Update existing diversity and inclusion policies and related HR practices.
- Providing training for line managers to support the policy / guidance documents.
- Consider reasonable adjustments. Have menopause at the front of your mind and consider whether adjustments are required before issues arise. Adjustments may mean adapting working arrangements, modifying usual procedures (performance management, sickness absence) or physical adjustments (desk fans, additional uniform, rest areas).
- Creating an open and transparent environment. For too long menopause has been a taboo subject, with many women feeling unable to talk to their line managers about their symptoms. By creating a working environment in which employees and managers alike feel comfortable having open discussions, organisations will be taking significant steps towards protecting their staff.
Should you have further questions, or wish to seek our support, please contact:Adele Martins, Head of Employment DDI: 020 7317 6719 E-mail: [email protected]