Employee wellbeing: Life events – Are you an employer of choice?
In this second article in our Employee Wellbeing series, we consider the interaction between menopause and the workplace and why it is now a business critical issue for employers.
Menopause is currently receiving significant attention in Parliament. Carolyn Harris MP recently called for a “menopause revolution” and, after successful lobbying, the Government agreed to reduce the cost of HRT prescriptions in 2022 and introduce a Menopause Taskforce. This is in addition to the Women and Equalities Committee inquiry on Menopause and the Workplace currently taking place. Further, an independent report, commissioned by the government, Menopause and employment: How to enable fulfilling working lives, has now been published and it makes a number of recommendations to the government.
There is no doubt that this issue is riding high in the Parliamentary agenda and it is therefore timely for employers to act now and take steps to consider how the menopause might affect their employees, how they can support them and how best to do this in practice.
What is the menopause?
The menopause occurs when a woman stops menstruating due to hormonal changes. All women experience the menopause at some point and may be peri-menopausal for some time before this. Symptoms usually last for four to eight years, and typically occur between the ages of 45 to 55, but it can happen earlier or later than this. Early menopause may be caused by certain medical conditions or treatment.
Menopausal symptoms may include heavy and/or irregular periods, fatigue, hot flushes, night sweats, migraines, depression, anxiety, insomnia and memory or concentration problems, all of which have the potential to impact on employees at work. The severity of such symptoms varies from person to person and may fluctuate over time.
It is important to recognise that trans, non-binary and intersex people may also experience menopausal symptoms. Family members of someone experiencing the menopause may also be impacted.
Menopause in the workplace
It is estimated that around 4 million women aged between 45-55 are in work and a Government report has revealed that women aged 50 and above are the fastest growing section of the UK workforce. Around 400,000 of these women start the menopause each year, meaning that there are direct impacts on the workplace which employers cannot afford to ignore. The business case for adopting a support strategy is strengthened by research which shows that 23% of women consider giving up work because of menopausal symptoms and almost 1 million have already left the workplace as a direct consequence of the impact of the menopause. The reasons for this are likely to be myriad but may include the fact that many individuals will experience poor sleep which can make it difficult to focus; mood changes can have a detrimental effect on work relationships; and symptoms can lead to frequent absences. These difficulties can be compounded by the fact that symptom onset often coincides with managing teenage children and caring for elderly parents. Unfortunately, the menopause often remains a taboo topic, leaving many individuals too embarrassed to discuss their symptoms or ask for support.
Research recently carried out by the Standard Chartered Bank and Financial Services Commission found that employees’ experiences of the menopause at work impacts their confidence to perform their role: 47% of those surveyed said they were less likely to apply for a promotion on account of this.
Employers therefore need to prioritise their support for menopausal workers if they are to retain a vital section of their highly skilled workforce.
ACAS also maintains useful guidance on how employers can better support menopausal workers.
A failure to address the impact of menopause in the workplace can also lead to legal claims. A number of cases have now been reported including Donnachie v Telent Technology Service Ltd  where the judge considered that the effect of the claimant’s menopausal symptoms was “more than minor or trivial” (contrary to their employer’s assertions) confirming that menopausal symptoms can have a disabling effect.
Similarly, the claimant in Kownacka v Textbook Teachers Ltd , whose cancer treatment had caused early menopause, succeeded in her claim for harassment related to disability. The Employment Tribunal found that her managing director demonstrated a “lack of insight, sensitivity and empathy” thereby fostering “an offensive environment” on account of her insensitive remarks regarding the claimant’s early menopause and inability to have children.
Such claims have not been limited to disability discrimination. The Employment Tribunal has also found that a claimant had been subjected to less favourable treatment and harassment due to her age and sex. The claimant’s manager had made jokes about her inability to carry out tasks on account of her being menopausal, along with telling her colleagues they should apply for her job in an upcoming restructure.
Notwithstanding the existing protections against discrimination, there is also ongoing debate (including as part of the Women and Equalities Committee inquiry) on whether there should be protection bespoke to menopause, recognising that the existing protected characteristics, e.g of disability may not always align comfortably or appropriately with the relevant issues.
Supporting menopausal workers
As part of a strategy aimed at supporting menopausal workers, employers may wish to consider joining a number of household name businesses who have signed up to the Menopause Workplace Pledge (implemented by Wellbeing of Women), thereby demonstrating a commitment to actively support employees affected by the menopause.
Many companies have now also implemented menopause policies as a way to sign-post affected employees to available workplace support and encourage respectful discussions about the menopause. This is a key step for any businesses which aspire to recruit and retain the best talent. A menopause policy might, for example, include a variety of commitments, ranging from management training, paid sick leave and even the introduction of apps which give employees access to free consultations with menopause experts who can support them in the management of their symptoms.
A comprehensive policy should also set out the physical workplace adjustments which the employer will consider to support someone impacted by menopause. These could include flexible working options, dress code modifications and temperature control measures. Many of these adjustments are low cost yet provide significant support to menopausal workers.
If employers are to invest in employee wellbeing, retain talented individuals, guard against tribunal claims and maintain business reputation now is the time to review and implement a comprehensive approach to supporting those impacted by menopause.
DLA Piper’s Employment team can advise you on your business’ approach to menopause, assist you with implementing a menopause policy and provide training to your staff. For further information, please speak to your usual DLA Piper contact or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may also wish to fully review your organisation’s diversity and inclusion strategy, and your compliance with legal obligations, by completing the DLA Piper Diversity and Inclusion Index.
Our Employee Wellbeing series:
- The business case for employers reviewing their strategy on employee support;
- Supporting employees through baby loss and neonatal treatment (coming soon);
- Supporting employees undergoing fertility treatment (coming soon);
- Domestic abuse: Providing support and empowering employees (coming soon).