Are Employers Failing Female Staff When It Comes To The Menopause?

Employers failing female staff when it comes to the menopause

Menopause related claims increasing.

Judging by the increase in Employment Tribunal cases citing the menopause as the cause of complaint, the answer seems to be a resounding yes.

Between 2018 and 2020 the number of claimants making reference to the menopause at tribunal tripled, with this year’s statistics looking at continuing on an upward trajectory.

Amongst others, a recent article in The Guardian ‘No sympathy, no understanding’: the social worker fired while perimenopausal’ shines a light on how many employers appear to be left wanting when it comes to their understanding and appreciation of the impact of the menopause on their female employees.

Although generally accepted to impact women between 45 to 55 years of age, many younger women can unexpectedly transition far earlier than this. And, as symptoms can vary in severity and nature, many women often experience inconclusive medical diagnosis from healthcare professionals. Little wonder then, that in turn they could also be subjected to a lack of understanding from their employer.

Sadly, this does not just appear to be a lack of understanding on the part of male colleagues and bosses either. This can be seen in the Employment Tribunal case of Ms A Kownacka v Textbook Teachers Ltd: 2602697/2018 published on 23rd April 2021, where the claimant gave evidence of her female boss stating that facing the menopause aged 37 and inability to conceive as a result, was “no big deal”.

As a practising employment law solicitor I am seeing an increase in claims being advanced by female staff on the grounds of the menopause, who rightly see this as discrimination; be it age, sex or disability in nature. 

The debilitating effects of associated symptoms may afford female employees protection under the Equality Act 2010, whereby the menopause could reasonably be categorised as a disability.  

Claimants often point to detrimental treatment in the workplace (in some cases facing inappropriate performance improvement plans) as a result of experiencing even the most common symptoms, such as exhaustion, hot flushes, increased levels of stress, anxiety and brain fog. And of course, in some cases grounds for an unfair dismissal claim where they have been let go by their employer as a result of such symptoms on their performance.

In an article published in 2019 by HRreview Menopause Costs UK Economy 14 Million Working Days Per Year’ the impact of menopausal symptoms can clearly be seen to be an issue for employers to take seriously.

Women aged over 50 account for 1 in 6 of the UK’s workforce and in research conducted by Bupa that same year, they estimated that as many as 900,000 women left their jobs as a result of the menopause.

Thankfully, the topic is more commonly discussed than it used to be and increasing numbers of female employees are taking action into their own hands, in larger companies at least. Many are setting up internal menopause support groups and challenging their employers to be more understanding and better informed.

As highlighted by Dee Murray, the Menopause Experts chief executive when describing how women should stand up for themselves against outdated and ill-informed bosses, she notes that “The lack of education is dangerous for women’s health and unfair to their careers”.

From my perspective, it is the duty of employers to tackle this head on, giving it the importance it deserves alongside other workplace policies and contractual obligations around discrimination and disability. 

The law also needs to be clearer in this area as, at present, there is no consistency in tribunal judgement findings on whether the menopause is sex discrimination or even disability discrimination

Writing in HRreview on the 30th July 2021, Emma Clark notes that there is a need for “an overhaul of employment policies to address this important issue” and that a petition for employers with more than 250 staff to introduce a mandatory menopause policy is gaining momentum.

Emma offers some useful advice to employers on other things they should consider, including better educating staff with appropriate training, more flexible working arrangements and for menopause related symptoms being treated differently within sickness absence records.

With her private member’s bill “menopause revolution” scheduled to be debated in Parliament in late October, Carolyn Harris, MP, will help the growing number of commentators and women in the UK who are driving greater awareness, understanding and debate around this important topic.

I, like others in my profession, will continue to fight for the legal protections that should be afforded to female employees within their places of work through each stage of their menopause transition.

If you believe you had been discriminated against or unfairly dismissed as a result of the menopause, get in touch with us now to discuss your potential legal options.

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