As World Menopause Day took place on 18 October, we thought it would be a good time to address the taboo that exists in the workplace.
Menopausal women are the fastest growing demographic in the workforce. Employers must therefore ensure that they are aware of their legal obligations and what they can do to support their staff.
Research demonstrates that many women dealing with the transition experienced difficulties in reducing their working hours, experienced problems with the working environment and many have stated that they are not comfortable disclosing their difficulties to their managers and colleagues. In addition, some women felt as though their career had been affected, with some women leaving the workplace altogether.
An employer has a duty to protect the health and wellbeing of its workforce and must not behave in a way that may undermine the implied duty of trust and confidence.
Two cases concerning the menopause have reached the employment tribunals in the UK. In both cases, the employees were successful. One employee succeeded with a claim of direct sex discrimination, whilst the other successfully argued disability related discrimination.
In addition to the above claims, other types of claims that could arise in the future concerning the menopause include:
- Indirect sex and disability discrimination;
- Sex, disability and age-related harassment;
- Failure to make reasonable adjustments; and
The above claims could significantly damage an employer’s reputation and can also be costly and time-consuming.
The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee
The government have pledged to improve care in the workplace for menopausal women. The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee has launched an inquiry into workplace issues surrounding the menopause. They will examine existing discrimination legislation and workplace practices, to consider whether more is needed to prevent women from leaving their jobs as a result of menopausal symptoms, or suffering other adverse consequences.
Essentially recommendations will be provided with a view to shaping policies to address gender equality. The inquiry will also consider whether additional legislation (other than those mentioned above) is required so that employers put in place a workplace menopause policy to protect people going through the menopause while at work.
What actions can employers take?
In order to support their workforce and potentially avoid future claims, employers could:
- Provide training for staff and particularly managers to ensure they understand how the menopause can affect working women and what adjustments can be implemented to support them;
- Ensure that guidance about how to deal with the menopause is freely available in the workplace;
- Invest in an employee assistance programme;
- Review and/or amend their sickness absence policies to ensure that women experiencing the transition do not encounter any detriments;
- Implement flexible working policies, or take a flexible approach to requests for a break or an early finish. If sleep is disturbed, later start times may be helpful;
- Carry out risk assessments to ensure that the workplace environment is not exacerbating a woman’s symptoms. For example, ensure that employees have access to fans, clean and comfortable toilets, etc;
- Provide access to cold drinking water;
- Review uniforms to ensure that they have the option to wear layers, remove neckties or jackets, etc. An employer could also consider changing the uniforms fabrics to a more thermally comfortable fabric.
With seven out of ten women of menopausal age in work in the UK, now is the time for employers to consider their obligations.
If you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any other aspect of employment law, please contact us on 029 2034 5511 or at email@example.com