Pausing for thought

By Liz Stevens, Birketts

The impact of the menopause in the workplace has recently - many would say belatedly - been a hot topic, with numerous studies and tribunal decisions focussing on the issue and new initiatives introduced to address it.

Published in Norfolk Director Magazine Autumn|Winter 2022

Legal: Birketts LLP

According to ONS data, women over 50 are the fastest-growing segment of the workforce. Yet a study by the Fawcett Society in 2022 (believed to be the largest survey of menopausal women in the UK) found that eight in ten women got no support from their employer. 44% said that their ability to do their job had been affected by their symptoms, and one in ten had left a job as a result. Over half reported losing confidence at work, and 41% said that the menopause or menopausal symptoms were treated as a joke by colleagues.

A lack of support at work and the perception of menopause as a taboo subject that cannot be openly discussed, are highlighted in the Government’s Women’s Health Strategy for England (published 20 July 2022). Under this strategy, employers are encouraged to introduce workplace menopause policies to ensure that women are provided with the support to remain there.

UK Menopause Taskforce

The Government recently established the UK Menopause Taskforce, with work and employment as its first priority. The Taskforce will work with employer groups and stakeholders, to improve support in the workplace and tackle taboos and stigmas, including a new communications campaign. The NHS is introducing a model of workforce support, including guidance developed in partnership with menopause experts, to be pioneered in the NHS and shared across wider sectors.

It appears unlikely that any legislative measures will be introduced to reinforce the protection of menopausal employees; the Government has confirmed that it is not proposing any changes to the Equality Act 2010. Specifically, it has no plans to bring section 14 of the Act into force, which would allow dual discrimination claims to be brought (based on two protected characteristics, such as sex and age). Nor does it intend to make menopause a protected characteristic in its own right.

Employment tribunals

However, an analysis of tribunal records by the Menopause Experts Group found that menopause-related tribunal claims have increased sharply in recent years, with 23 claims citing menopause in 2021 compared with just five in 2017. The Employment Appeal Tribunal has confirmed (Rooney v Leicester City Council [2021]) that an employee’s menopausal symptoms can fulfil the statutory definition of ‘disability’ under the Equality Act 2010.

To avoid the risk of a successful discrimination claim, employers should improve awareness of the impact of menopause symptoms and consider practical steps to alleviate any difficulties these present in the workplace. This may include flexibility over hours and duties for menopausal employees and a review of sickness absence procedures.

With staff shortages a significant ongoing problem for many sectors, employers already recognise the value of workforce longevity and experience to the success of their business. Tackling the problems faced by many women undergoing the menopause will further assist staff retention and make the workplace more inclusive for all ages.  

Pausing for thought 1

Birketts can help you take steps to improve inclusivity, including its Equality, Diversity and Inclusion training programme. For more information please visit: www.birketts.co.uk/shaping-excellence-training/

Liz Stevens is Professional Support Lawyer, Employment, at Birketts

E: liz-stevens@birketts.co.uk
Or visit www.birketts.co.uk

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