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AN INVISIBLE COHORT: ARE WORKPLACES FAILING WOMEN GOING THROUGH MENOPAUSE? 

As ‘Menopause in the Workplace Inquiry’ is launched by the House of Commons  Women and Equalities Committee, Prosper looks at why almost 1 million women have left their jobs due to the symptoms of menopause and ask Helena Morrisey, director of the Employment & HR Law department at Thursfields, to explain why employers should prove they take ‘the change’ seriously by introducing a ‘menopause’ policy.

 

In July the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee launched a new inquiry, scrutinising existing legislation and workplace practices around menopause, and asking if enough is being done to address the issue.

 

The MPs on the cross-party Women and Equalities Committee are seeking to understand whether current legislation goes far enough to support people experiencing menopause at work. 

Almost a million women in the UK have left jobs as a result of menopausal symptoms.

 

With menopause mainly affecting those in their late 40s and early 50s, this leads to women eligible for senior management roles leaving work at the peak of their career, with knock-on effects on workplace productivity, the gender pay gap and the gender pension gap. 

 

With 4.4 million women aged 50 to 64 at work in the UK, they are the biggest growing demographic, representing 50% of the workforce.

 

Existing legislation protects people from discrimination based on sex, age and disability, but several calls have been made for further measures, including a workplace menopause policy.

 

With the Government currently developing its Women's Health Strategy, MPs on the cross-party committee will present their findings and recommendations with a view to shaping policies redressing gender equality.

 

Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP, said, "Three in every five women are negatively affected at work as a result of menopause. The repercussions of that are not merely individual. Excluding menopausal women from the workplace is detrimental to our economy, our society and our place on the world stage.

 

"Despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of women in the UK are currently going through menopause - a process that can be both physically and mentally draining - it is ignored in legislation. It is time to uncover and address this huge issue, which has been left near-invisible for far too long." 

The Committee is seeking written submissions addressing any or all of the following topics:  

  • What are the nature and the extent of discrimination faced by women experiencing menopause? 

  • How does this impact wider society? 

  • What is the economic impact of menopause discrimination? 

  • How can businesses factor in the needs of employees going through menopause? 

  • How can practices address workplace discrimination relating to menopause be implemented? For example, through guidance, advice, adjustments, or enforcement. What are examples of best or most inclusive practices? 

  • How should people who experience menopause but do not identify as women be supported in relation to menopause and the workplace? 

  • How well does current legislation protect women from discrimination in the workplace associated with menopause? Should current legislation be amended? What further legislation is required to enable employers to put in place a workplace menopause policy to protect people going through menopause whilst at work? 

  • How effective has Government action been at addressing workplace discrimination related to menopause, and what more can the Government do to address this issue? 

  • How effectively is the Government Equalities Office working across Government to embed a strategic approach to addressing the impact of menopause in the workplace? 

 

This inquiry is currently accepting evidence

The committee wants to hear your views. We welcome submissions from anyone with answers to the questions in the call for evidence. You can submit evidence until Friday 17 September 2021. 

 

Visit the website: Menopause and the workplace - Committees - UK Parliament

MENOPAUSE AT CENTRE OF INCREASING NUMBER OF UK EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNALS 

With growing numbers of women taking their employers to court citing the menopause as proof of unfair dismissal and direct sex discrimination, Prosper asked HELENA MORRISSEY, director of the Employment & HR Law department at Thursfields, to explain why employers should prove they take ‘the change’ seriously by introducing a ‘menopause’ policy.

 

Menopause is nothing to be ashamed of in the workplace and introducing a relevant policy should be considered by all employers.

  

Around 18 months ago, ACAS issued guidance for employers on how to manage menopause in the workplace. Since then, much has been written in the press about menopause, and it’s often a topic for discussion on lunchtime TV panel shows.

 

Whilst it is good to see the topic being discussed openly in mainstream media, it is still not a common topic for discussion in the workplace. But why not?

   

There is still a reluctance to talk openly about menopause and the effects that it can have on women at work. Many women inevitably feel that admitting they are struggling with symptoms of menopause or perimenopause is a sign of weakness. There remains a degree of stigma associated with menopause, despite the fact that about 50% of the world’s population will suffer its effects at some point.

 

Pregnant women, quite rightly, have specific protection from workplace detriment and discrimination, yet the mental and physical changes that a woman goes through during menopause can be every bit as disruptive. It is important that employers recognise this and provide support for women who are dealing with such symptoms. 

A quick and easy way to communicate such support and understanding is to implement a ‘menopause’ policy and ensure that this is widely communicated and supported by training.

 

Implementing such a policy is a great way to communicate the message that menopause is nothing to be ashamed of in the workplace and that women will be provided with appropriate support and will not be subject to any detriment in terms of the impact on their career and job security. 

Managers and co-workers need to understand that there’s more to menopause than hot flushes. Menopause can also disrupt sleep, cause anxiety and low self-esteem, and can lead to brain ‘fog’ and forgetfulness. Other side effects include fatigue and loss of energy, weight gain and migraines.

 

The symptoms of menopause can be so extreme that in some cases women have been found to be disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 because of them. This means there are legal risks for employers if they fail to provide appropriate support for women going through menopause.

 

Clearly, if the symptoms are severe enough to qualify as a disability, this triggers a positive legal duty to make reasonable adjustments. Such adjustments would depend on the nature of the impairment but could include allowing the employee to work at home or adjust her working hours. 

 

Employers also need to be careful that they don’t treat such an employee unfavourably because of something arising as a consequence of their disability. For example, an employee is disciplined because they have forgotten to do something, but if that memory loss is attributable to menopause, such disciplinary action could potentially constitute unlawful discrimination.

   

Discrimination on the grounds of age and/or gender are also areas of risk even if the employee’s symptoms are not severe enough to constitute a disability. The biggest danger is the risk of indirect discrimination, namely, having in place a provision, criteria or practises that applies to all, but which may put women going through menopause at a particular advantage. 

   

This could be, for example, a requirement to work set hours in the office, which could disadvantage some women who find that a more flexible approach to workplace and hours enables them to manage their symptoms more easily.

 

A uniform or dress code that is unduly restrictive and does not give scope for women to better accommodate hot flushes could also fall into this category. 

However, supporting women through menopause is about much more than simply avoiding unlawful discrimination. Encouraging open dialogue about the effects of menopause and support measures available is key, as it helps to reduce the stigma and embarrassment that is still associated with this particular stage in women’s lives. 

 

This communication and education piece needs to be aimed at all employees, including men and younger women, who are unlikely to know and understand as much about the impact of menopause as older women who have been through it, or who are approaching it.

 

It needs to be championed as a perfectly normal part of a woman’s life – much like pregnancy – when it is acknowledged that women may need a little more support, flexibility and understanding than at other times in their lives. 

Employers should clearly communicate to all employees what support measures are available to women dealing with the symptoms of menopause, and it needs to be ‘normalised’ as a subject for open discussion, rather than a private matter for ‘women of a certain age’. 

 

Employers should show that they not only understand the issues faced by women but that they are committed to providing support to alleviate the negative impact of menopause symptoms. 

Importantly, employers should make it clear that women will not be stigmatized or disadvantaged if they admit that their symptoms are affecting their work from time to time. Much in the same way as pregnancy is no longer seen as a barrier to career advancement (and it certainly used to be), nor should menopause.

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LET’S TALK ABOUT THE MENOPAUSE EVENT 

Join Black Country Chamber on Thursday 7th October for our Women in Leadership live webinar, ‘Let’s Talk About the Menopause’. 

We will be joined by the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, the Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP and guests from the medical, legal, women’s health and well-being sectors, for our event during the Black Country Business Festival.

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PROSPER MAGAZINE: AUGUST 2021

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