HR Discrimination: Attitudes to Menopause at Work
Ahead of World Menopause Day 18th October 2022 we thought we’d explore a commonly downplayed and misunderstood issue in the workplace. When it comes to the topic of the Menopause, many of us are guilty of being misinformed and ill prepared. Sometimes, this can lead- to unwanted prejudice and possible sex, gender reassignment, age and/or disability discrimination within the working environment. Moreover, with menopausal women making up one of the largest demographics in the workplace, this issue is all the more pertinent.
What is the Menopause and How it Impacts Work?
The Menopause can be defined as the point at which a woman’s menstrual cycle is ending. ‘Typically’ this tends to happen between the ages of 45-50 but mitigating medical factors can often cause this to be triggered earlier or later. Common symptoms of Menopause include: hot flushes, anxiety, brain fog, mood swings, irregular periods and a shift in sleeping pattern. Therefore, a menopausal individual can suffer both physically, and psychologically, thus having a detrimental impact on their ability to work effectively.
Furthermore, whilst many are aware of Menopause, most remain acutely unaware of Perimenopause. This is a transitional phase that happens before reaching Menopause, where the body begins to make physical adjustments to things such as hormone levels and causes irregular periods. This can lead to many of the same symptoms aforementioned, linked with Menopause and can start several years before the final menstrual cycle.
Therefore, taking into account the symptoms and potential ‘lifespan’ of both Menopause and Perimenopause, it is clear to see why such a big demographic is affected in the workplace. What’s more this is cemented by the Faculty of Occupational Medicine who state that almost 8 out of 10 menopausal women are in work, with 3 out of 4 experiencing general symptoms, and 1 in 4 experiencing serious symptoms.
What Measures Are in Place to Protect Menopausal Women in the Workplace?
Especially in the UK, there have been plenty of calls for new, inclusive workplace policies to be introduced in order to help protect menopausal women at work. Menopause is a deeply personal and subjective experience so it is important to acknowledge that each individuals experience of it may vary greatly due to factors such as race, religion, disability, age, sexual orientation or marital/civil partnership status. As such it’s imperative that the available channels and support proposed, in any new policy, is inclusive. Whilst Menopause does currently fall under wider pieces of legislation when we think about potential discrimination and unfair treatment, there is very little in the way of specific policies such as those that are set out for other life events.
The main pieces of legislation that do serve to protect those with Menopause in the workplace are predominantly the Equality Act 2010 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. ‘Under the Equality Act 2010, Menopause discrimination is largely covered under the four protected characteristics: age, sex, gender reassignment and/or disability discrimination. Menopause and sex discrimination can be a bit more of a grey area to claim, as not all women experience the negative symptoms which can accompany the menopause, however unwanted behaviour about someones menopause symptoms could count as harassment or sexual harassment, depending on the nature of the behaviour. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 provides for safe working, which extends to the working conditions when experiencing menopausal symptoms.’ (UK Parliament/Menopause-and-the-Workplace). Although these acts are not specific to Menopause, they do enable some protection against discrimination of it, and therefore it is useful to be aware of how they can cover you on this issue.
Why Discrimination Against Menopause is Such a Big Issue in the Workplace
One of the biggest issues regarding Menopause in the workplace is the stigma that is often attached to it. It is a subject that many individuals are ill informed on, so much of the stigma could be attributed to a lack of general education on the matter. For example, even in our modern-day society, people still talk about hormonal imbalances in a derogatory fashion and offer it up as an explanation for negative interactions with women. Notably, this lack of education could also be put down to a wider issue in the potential lack of workplace policies and schemes that enable both menopausal individuals, and their colleagues, a better understanding into acceptable conduct and channels for dealing with Menopause in the workplace.
What’s more, as Menopause is to do with menstruation, it is often considered (wrongly) a very taboo topic and is rarely discussed in the workplace. As such, many women feel as if they should not disclose their Menopause status and do not seek for their employers to make any workplace adaptions to help ease their symptoms. This is typically due to fear of judgement and a lack of awareness of their workplace rights when it comes to Menopause. In turn, many menopausal individuals will opt to take time off work without explaining that the symptoms of the Menopause are the cause. Therefore, workplace attendance and annual holiday usage is impacted significantly when measures could be put in place to avoid this.
These ideas are compounded in a recent survey, conducted by The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee, on ‘Menopause and the Workplace’ where they found that:
- 31% of respondents reported taking time off work due to Menopause symptoms, which included problems with memory or concentration, anxiety/ depression and headaches. (75%, 69% and 41% of all respondents respectively).
- Despite this, less than a third of respondents told anyone at work and just under 11% requested adjustments in the workplace due to their symptoms.
- Those who did not request adjustments were most likely to do so as a result of stigma, with 26% citing the reason as ‘I was worried about the reaction of others’.
- Almost one in five respondents (19%) did not know who to speak to in order to request adjustments, which led to them not speaking up. Of the respondents who did ask for support, those who spoke to line managers felt more supported than employees who reported symptoms to HR or occupational health. parliament.uk
Recent Examples of Workplace Menopause Discrimination
Furthermore, this idea of Menopause being stigmatised in the workplace is supported by many contemporary tribunal cases. There has been a sharp increase in examples where employees have decided to take their employers to tribunal and won, over what they deemed to be workplace discrimination based on being Menopausal. According to The Menopause Experts Group who reference HM Courts and Tribunals Service there were seven cases citing menopause in 2019, sixteen in 2020 and twenty three in 2021 thus denoting a dramatic increase in workplace menopause discrimination. Moreover these include high profile cases such as Davies vs Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (2018), A v Bonmarche Limited (2019) and Louise Mccabe vs Selazar Limited (2022). The sharp increase in cases citing Menopause discrimination, coupled with the notoriety being garnered in high profile cases, only serves to highlight the fact that discrimination against Menopausal individuals is still a very prevalent issue in the workplace today. However it does suggest that Menopausal Women are starting to feel more empowered on the topic of Menopause and that a general awareness of the discrimination issue is being raised.
What Can be Done to Shift Attitudes Towards Menopause in the Workplace?
Education on the topic is arguably the most significant change that needs to be implemented. This can be achieved through the introduction of more workplace policies to make sure there is support and appropriate procedures in place for those experiencing Menopause, whilst also increasing the overall awareness of it. Training for managers, to give staff more confidence to speak to their manager on the topic and to give managers the tools to deal with the matter sensitively and knowledgeably. It needs to be made simpler for those experiencing symptoms of Menopause to be able to have more of an open discourse on the topic. Therefore, allowing them to feel comfortable in discussing their experience with colleagues in order to adjust the workplace for a more inclusive working environment. In turn, reducing the levels of stigma attached to Menopause, whilst reducing the impacts of Menopause symptoms.
If you would like to reach out to us regarding best practice on avoiding discrimination in your workplace, or help with implementing suitable employee related policies when establishing in the UK, please contact our HR Manager Jacqui Brown. Further still, if you would like assistance in setting up a UK entity please feel free to explore our website further or get in touch with our Marketing Manager James Service.