Menopause in the workplace
Discrimination legislation and workplace issues surrounding the menopause are to form part of an upcoming Government inquiry - as employment tribunal claims in this area of the law are on the increase and employment law solicitors see it as a potential area of conflict in the workplace.
Head of Employment Law at Pearson, Susan Mayall, advises: “When we look at menopause in a workplace scenario and consider if there is potential for tribunal claims and discrimination, then I think that disability discrimination is the most likely area to gain traction.”
The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee is due to look into the extent of discrimination and the economic implications of women in work with menopausal symptoms. In addition, they are to consider whether further legislation is needed to deal with discrimination relating to the menopause and if specific policies are needed to protect women.
Menopause discrimination is currently not covered under the Equality Act 2010 however, with evidence it can be covered under the protected characteristics of age, sex and disability discrimination. Existing legislation protects people from discrimination in these areas, but it has been mooted that further measures, such as a workplace menopause policy, is needed by employers.
In any potential tribunal claims Susan advises: “If a woman could provide evidence that she has suffered a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial long term adverse effect on her day to day activities then she would gain protection. Her employer would be required to consider making reasonable adjustments such as flexible working hours.”
“As always I urge my employer clients to have a conversation with their employee and to keep communication channels open, just as they would if the employee had broken their leg or had a cancer diagnosis, they can then enquire into whether there may be reasonable adjustments which would help.”
Rising discrimination claims
It is estimated that almost one million women in the UK have left work with issues surrounding the menopause with many women in their 40s and 50s at the peak of their careers. Now an increasing number are citing the menopause, alongside unfair dismissal and sex discrimination, in tribunal claims.
Five employment tribunals referenced menopause in 2018, six in 2019 and 16 in 2020 and this has increased again already in 2021.
One recent employment tribunal which referenced the menopause did not find the employer had discriminated against the female employee when commenting on her menopause, but instead stated that treatment by the employer amounted to harassment. In another claim a woman was ruled disabled ‘by reason of the menopause’.
“I welcome this forthcoming inquiry and further clarity in the law in the area of menopause and employment law,” adds Susan. “Currently tribunal claims have been looking at sex, age, harassment, disability and so it is clear some guidance is needed in this area of the employment law.”
Susan adds: “I am currently looking into advising employers to consider including a menopause policy in their staff handbooks going forward. A menopause policy would also help an employer to use the statutory defence (if harassment was linked to the menopause and its symptoms) but the employer would need to evidence that training, support and advice had been given to managers on how to deal if such a situation arose, rather than just relying on having produced a policy.”
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