Let's talk menopause - what employers need to know

Because we should, in 2023, all be comfortable talking openly about the menopause. Often seen as a private matter, or ‘a women’s issue’, menopause is still widely ignored in too many workplaces. It matters.

Last year, the Fawcett Society released findings from what they believe to be the largest survey of menopausal women in the UK. 77% of those surveyed experienced one or more menopausal symptoms which they described as “very difficult.” 61% also said that they had lost motivation at work due to their symptoms.  Symptoms include fatigue, anxiety, loss of confidence, memory loss (as well as the more widely known symptoms such as hot flushes and reactions to noise). Would you be able to effectively perform your role if you suffered with any of those symptoms, often on a daily basis?

Aside from the obvious human element to supporting those throughout the menopause (that can include peri-menopause, sometimes affecting employees as early as their 20’s, and post-menopause) there is also the financial aspect. The survey used by the Fawcett Society found that 1 in 10 women who worked during their menopause left work due to their symptoms (which mapped against the UK population is estimated to be 333,000 employees). Bearing in mind that people over 50 now make up almost a third of the workforce, this is very worrying. There are direct financial costs associated with the recruitment and training of new staff to replace those who have left. There are also indirect costs due to the loss of talent, knowledge and experience within the organisation.

Although the Fawcett Society findings are focussed on the experiences of those surveyed (the majority of whom identified as female), the points apply equally to trans men or non-binary employees, or employees with variations of sex development, who experience menopausal symptoms.

So what are your obligations as an employer?

Menopausal employees have certain legal protections. Under the Equality Act 2010, employees have a right to be protected from disadvantage or less favourable treatment if they have one or more “protected characteristics.” There is no express protected characteristic of menopause (or menstruation, endometriosis, PCOS etc). Instead, legal protection is likely to arise as protection from discrimination in relation to sex, age, gender reassignment or disability (or a combination thereof). This includes protection from harassment (ie, those comments often made about someone’s experience of the menopause that can result in an Employment Tribunal claim).  There are also certain protections and further obligations under Health and Safety legislation, including an obligation to carry out an assessment of risks to employees’ health and safety (which should consider the specific needs of those going through menopause).

What can employers do better?

There are several organisational steps which employers can take to support those going through menopause during their working life:

  1. Sign the Menopause Workplace Pledge. So far in the UK, more than 2,500 employers have signed the Menopause Workplace Pledge (including Tesco, Royal Mail and the BBC). The pledge recognises employers who are committed to supporting menopause in the workplace, allowing those experiencing it to talk openly and actively support and inform employees affected by the menopause.
  2. Implement a menopause policy. Such a policy can help employees understand the menopause, its symptoms and impact, be confident and comfortable holding conversations about menopause and consider how menopause may impact on other policies and practices, such as sickness absence and redundancies. However, an employer should tailor the policy appropriately. For example, adjustments which can be put in place for home or office-based employees may not be suitable for site or shop based employees.
  3. Train your workforce. Line managers and colleagues can play a huge role in supporting menopausal employees. Appropriate training on how to conduct conversations about menopause and suitable adjustments will be key to building confidence and making those going through menopause feel valued and supported.
  4. Appoint Menopause Champions. Those being designated individuals who an employee can contact to discuss menopause related issues or concerns if they are not comfortable talking to their manager.

If you think your organisation would benefit from discussing the menopause, training people and managers or implementation of a menopause policy, please get in touch with Kate Watkins or your usual Mills & Reeve employment contact.

Further information

The Fawcett society report which is referred to in this article

ACAS guidance on menopause at work

The Menopause Workplace Pledge 

Our content explained

Every piece of content we create is correct on the date it’s published but please don’t rely on it as legal advice. If you’d like to speak to us about your own legal requirements, please contact one of our expert lawyers.

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