Time for change: Menopause and the work place

As Menopause Awareness month draws to an end and MPs are voting on whether prescription charges for HRT should be waved, we’ve been thinking about the impact of menopause at work.

Menopause can begin earlier than you may expect. Some women may reach peri-menopause in their teenage years, but more often it will anytime be from their late thirties onwards. This means that a proportion of your workforce may be experiencing menopause at any time.

The main symptoms that may impact at work include:

  • Impact on memory – which is often referred to as brain fog;
  • Reduced concentration;
  • Reduced motivation;
  • Impact on mood and mental health – women may experience anxiety, low mood or even depression;
  • Fatigue – menopause can cause insomnia and other menopause symptoms can disrupt sleep or cause fatigue;
  • Physical symptoms such as hot sweats, joint pain, heavy and painful periods.

All of this adds up to members of your team working through some challenges and perhaps needing some support and understanding from their managers and colleagues. 

We’re seeing an increase in the number of Tribunal claims referring to menopause. There were only 5 in 2018, but 16 in 2020 and a projected 20 in 2021. Still small numbers, but they’re on the rise and likely to increase substantially as menopause becomes more talked about. A claim may be brought on the basis of unfair dismissal, sex discrimination, or potentially disability discrimination – depending on the extent of symptoms.

In a recent case of Rooney v Leicester City Council, Mrs Rooney had time off work due to menopause symptoms and work-related stress. She felt that the management of her absences was heavy handed and so she resigned and claimed disability discrimination. The Employment Tribunal held that her menopause symptoms did not amount to a disability. However, the Employment Appeal Tribunal was not so sure. They have sent the case back to the Employment Tribunal to justify why Mrs Rooney’s menopause does not amount to disability. We may therefore get a landmark ruling to say menopause is a disability covered by the Equality Act in the near future.

It can be hard for women to speak to their line managers about menopause, how can you ensure you are approachable?

  • Talk to your staff regularly about health and wellbeing – this doesn’t need to be a formal 1:1 but enough to show that you’re approachable and open to communication, to make sure that they will feel comfortable coming to talk to you if they’re having an issues.
  • Use formal 1:1s if you have them, for example, return to work meetings following sickness, appraisals or other review meetings, to broaden the agenda and include discussion about health and wellbeing.
  • Consider introducing a menopause policy and/or sharing information about menopause – although menopause will be covered by your normal procedures for managing health issues in the workplace, the advantage of a separate policy is that it will make women feel more comfortable in coming forward.
  • If a woman comes to speak to you about menopause issues, find out what symptoms they’re experiencing and how they’re being impacted at work – this can be different for everyone. Discuss whether there are any reasonable adjustments that you might be able to make either temporarily while they seek medical advice and trial treatments (it can take a while to find the right one) or more permanently if they may need this. Agree a review date so that you can keep the conversation going – menopause symptoms may change over time and so you need to make room for this.

If you would like to know more, or for some help with a menopause policy, please do not hesitate to get in touch.