It’s Time to Talk About the Menopause 

November, 2021 - Shoosmiths LLP

In association with Macmillan Davies and led by Employment Partner, Emma Morgan and Associate, Lauren Bholé, this webinar focused on the menopause in the workplace.


With World Menopause Day having just passed (18 October 2021) and a parliamentary debate on the menopause having entered the House of Commons in September 2021, the menopause has been a focal point for media coverage. This session considered the business and legal case for keeping discussions surrounding the menopause high on the workplace agenda and suggested changes employers can implement for a more productive and supportive working environment.


It’s time to talk about the menopause


The Office for National Statistics has revealed that women in the age group most likely to suffer menopausal symptoms also make up the fastest-growing economically active group in the UK. Research commissioned by Health & Her indicated that the UK could be losing fourteen million workdays a year as a result of the menopause. These women are often at the peak of their careers and employers not only risk diminished productivity and loss of talent but they also risk being subject to legal action if employees going through the menopause are not sufficiently supported. With the number of Employment Tribunal cases that relate to the menopause tripling in the last three years and an unknown number of menopause-related grievances arising, employers must open their menopause dialogue with their employees and consider any steps they could take to make their workforce more inclusive.


Avoiding stereotypes


Symptoms of the menopause can include anything from hot flushes and concentration issues to symptoms causing hospitalisation. Employers should avoid stereotyping those affected by the menopause and remember that it can affect everybody in different ways, including younger females up to ten years before they start their menopause.  It is also not just women who are affected by the menopause: symptoms can affect trans women who can experience pseudo-menopausal symptoms due to hormone changes, and trans men may experience the menopause if their ovaries remain in place or if they undergo a hysterectomy.


Employment Tribunal claims


Claims brought by employees can include constructive and unfair dismissal claims as well as complaints of harassment and discrimination based on protected characteristics such as age, sex, and disability. A lack of support may also lead to internal grievances and a hostile workplace. The case of Merchant v BT plc highlights the risk of making assumptions about menopausal employees. Mrs Merchant was suffering menopausal symptoms which were affecting her job performance. Her manager was aware of Mrs Merchant’s menopausal symptoms and was handed a doctor’s note. Her manager did not investigate her performance further or follow company procedures in seeking an occupational health referral. He dismissed her on performance-related grounds founded on his own beliefs of how the menopause had affected other people he knew. Mrs Merchant took her claims of unfair dismissal and direct sex discrimination to the Employment Tribunal who upheld her claims.


Become an Accredited Menopause Friendly Employer


Employers can now receive accreditation as an ‘Accredited Menopause Friendly Employer’ by undertaking an assessment by an independent panel from Menopause Friendly. HSBC, M&S Bank and First Direct are three of several members to receive this accreditation. Examples of what HSBC did to get this accreditation included training menopause advocates and champions to create awareness and educate managers, redesigning HSBC uniform to make it more breathable, holding weekly lunch-and-learn sessions open to all colleagues covering a variety of topics and providing information to their free confidential counselling service.


Tips for managing the menopause in the workplace


  • Consider whether the creation of a separate menopause policy is something that you would like to introduce.
  • Train and educate managers (and your workforce more generally) in recognising symptoms and managing absence sensitively.
  • Encourage open discussion within the workplace by offering training, workshops, anonymous online forums or by seeking employee opinion through surveys.
  • Consider flexible working policies and simple workplace adjustments such as making sure there is access to cold water and a window seat or fan.
  • Signpost employees to resources and trusted medical support and information.

 



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