The Menopause: what are your rights?

With the rate of employment among women over the age of 50 ever-increasing, employers must ensure that they’re aware of both the legal and non-legal consequences of ignoring or failing to effectively deal with the transition and associated symptoms of the menopause.

The menopause usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. Symptoms can vary between individuals, but often have a significant and detrimental impact on a woman’s day-to-day life. According to the NHS website, common symptoms include:

  • hot flushes
  • difficulty sleeping
  • low mood
  • anxiety
  • problems with memory and concentration

In addition to the legal consequences outlined below, employers risk losing talent and skills as a result of women leaving their current position because they don’t feel supported enough.

The law

An employer has a duty to protect the health and wellbeing of its workforce and must not behave in a way which may undermine the implied duty of trust and confidence.

So far in the UK, only two cases have been brought in relation to the menopause. In both cases, the tribunal held in favour of the claimants – one successfully claimed direct sex discrimination, and the other, disability related discrimination. While unbinding, these cases are a reminder to employers to set and follow procedures to avoid potential claims.

Other types of claims which could potentially arise include:

  • Indirect sex and disability discrimination
  • Sex, disability, and age-related harassment
  • Victimisation
  • Failure to make reasonable adjustments
  • Unfair dismissal

The impact of the menopause in the workplace is very much in public focus, as MPs are calling for new legal protections, including statutory rights to seek flexible working and time off as a result of its symptoms. Employers can no longer ignore what is seen by some as a last taboo.

Guidance for employers

Employers should effectively:

  • educate staff, particularly those in management positions
  • provide training so that employees have a better understanding of how to deal with the symptoms
  • elect employee representatives to ensure that there is a point of contact for open and honest discussions between employer and employee
  • improve the working environment to accommodate women experiencing menopause

In October last year, ACAS published a guide – menopause at work – suggesting how employers and employees should handle menopause-related issues in the workplace.

In particular, the guide recommended that employers should have menopause policies setting out how staff can raise issues and how employers can handle them.

The policies aim to demonstrate that employers are committed to having constructive, open, and honest conversations with staff and signpost support available.