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Menopause in the Workplace: Your questions answered and how to get it right

Updated: Apr 28

A pink piece of paper is ripped and shows the word Menopause on it.

Why do employers need to know about the menopause?

It’s time we had a frank discussion about menopause in the workplace. Did you know that failing to provide adequate support for women going through the menopause could land your company in legal hot water.

The menopause is a natural part of life for most women, but it can bring unpleasant symptoms like hot flushes, difficulty sleeping, mood changes, and reduced concentration that directly impact work. While menopause may be an uncomfortable topic for some, as an employer, it’s crucial you understand your legal obligations and the benefits to your people when supporting women at this stage of life.

According to the British Menopause Society, three quarters of women in the UK say that the menopause has caused them to change their lives.

47% of women who needed to take a day off work due to menopause symptoms say they wouldn't tell their employer the real reason.

38% of partners say they feel helpless when it comes to supporting their partner through the menopause.

It's time to start talking about the menopause at work and understand how best to support your people who are affected by the menopause.

The menopause can have significant effects on a woman’s personal and work life. Trans and non-binary employees may be affected in the same or similar ways.

Workplaces of any size should aim to create an environment where all employees feel informed about the menopause and are comfortable and confident talking about its impact.

Those going through the menopause should have help in coping with its effects so they continue to do their job successfully.

What is the menopause and what are the common symptoms?

Menopause typically happens between the ages of 45 and 55 when a woman's menstrual periods stop permanently. This signals the end of her reproductive years. In the UK, the average age for menopause is 51. During this transition, hormonal changes can cause bothersome symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, and sleep problems.

Hot flashes, also known as hot flushes, are temporary feelings of heat in the upper body. Night sweats are hot flashes that happen at night, often disrupting sleep. Mood changes may include irritability, anxiety, or feelings of sadness. Sleep difficulties are also common, making it hard to fall or stay asleep.

The menopause produces a range of physical and psychological symptoms that can affect many aspects of life.

Every woman is different and not all will be affected in the same way or to the same extent.

Menopause Support identifies over 30 symptoms, the common ones include:

  • Hot flushes

  • Headaches

  • Poor concentration

  • Dry eyes

  • Anxiety

  • Low mood

  • Lack of confidence

  • Panic attacks

  • Poor sleep

  • Weight gain

  • Fatigue

  • Poor memory

  • Joint and muscle pain

Menopause symptoms tend to last about four to eight years, but can last longer.

Is supporting women through menopause a legal requirement for employers?

Supporting staff at work who are going through the menopause is not a legal requirement.

The Equality Act 2010 does not define menopause as a disability, nor is it a protected characteristic. However the symptoms a person suffers from menopause could be defined as a disability.

Employers also have a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees.

Employers should consider whether or not a risk assessment is necessary. To identify how working conditions could affect those experiencing the menopause in the workplace.

Employers must also ensure that employees experiencing the menopause are not indirectly discriminated against. Later in this blog we look at employment tribunal cases regarding sex discrimination and the menopause.

Will the law change? With an ageing population and increasing awareness of menopause discrimination we may see changes in the law. However, currently supporting women going through the menopause is not a legal requirement.

Why employers need to understand the menopause

The menopause typically occurs between 45 and 55, lasting on average around 4 years, but up to 10 years. During this transition, hormone levels fluctuate and eventually deplete, causing symptoms like hot flushes, fatigue, mood changes, and difficulty concentrating. This can significantly impact work.

Studies show menopausal women report taking more sick leave, feeling less engaged, and struggling with workloads. However, with the right support, women can thrive during and after the menopause.

Failing to provide this support risks losing valuable, experienced staff. It also exposes employers to discrimination claims as the law requires making reasonable adjustments for health conditions. Supporting menopause is also a smart long-term recruitment strategy and helps build an inclusive, diverse workforce.

What if we don't employ older women?

Those employers who feel that menopause doesn't affect their company should think again. There are at many reasons to provide menopause information and support for all employees.

With the recruitment challenges most employers are facing, there now needs to be more than ever stronger strategies to recruit and retain staff.

Menopausal women are said to be one of the fastest growing UK workforce demographic. So widening the talent pool to recruit from the rise in older working women, could help support recruiting staff into the business. Therefore, creating a supportive environment for these workers makes good business sense.

Also no organisation is immune to the ageing population and menopause. Excluding certain groups is unethical and short-sighted. A diverse, multi-generational workforce has significant benefits to overall business performance.

With people living and working longer, supporting health transitions at all life stages will become increasingly important for productivity, staff retention, and avoiding legal issues. Taking an inclusive, compassionate approach is vital for sustainable success.

Supporting employee wellbeing

Workplace support could include flexible working, fans, adaptations to uniform and special leave for appointments. HR and line managers should receive menopause awareness training to facilitate open conversations and reasonable adjustments.

Some women feel embarrassed discussing menopause at work, so a policy stating the organisation’s commitment to supporting women’s health can help address this. Case studies show such policies and manager training significantly improve experience and productivity for menopausal women.

Forward-thinking companies providing menopause support will benefit from a healthier, happier and more diverse workforce. And as awareness grows, those failing to act may face discrimination claims, lost talent and damage to their brand and culture. Supporting women through life's changes is simply good business.

And lets not forget, that menopause support can help our current staff who may be indirectly affected by the menopause (their partner, mother, sister, aunt, friend). Together with younger workers who may experience the menopause early.

As part of your wellbeing strategies it’s something to consider. Especially in such a challenging labour market, where new recruits are looking for those employers who are supportive and go above and beyond, to care for their people.

Menopause Discrimination: The legal landscape in the UK

In the UK, there is no specific legal requirement for employers to provide support for women going through menopause. However, failing to provide adequate support could be considered sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

Even if your company employs mostly younger women, having a supportive work environment will benefit recruitment and retention in the long run. Accommodating employees’ needs at different life stages is key to building a loyal, diverse workforce.

Menopause Related Employment Tribunal

The first menopause related employment tribunal case was only just over 10 years ago.

The employee, Ms Merchant, brought a tribunal claim against her employer, BT, on the grounds of gender discrimination.

She was experiencing difficult menopausal symptoms, which was affecting her performance at work.

An article in the HR Director, explains the case:

“In Merchant v British Telecommunications plc a tribunal held that direct sex discrimination had occurred when an employer had failed to treat an employee’s menopause in the same way as other medical conditions when applying its performance management policy.

The facts

Ms Merchant had been the subject of BT’s underperformance procedure on and off for a number of years and culminated in a final warning being issued.

When the problems continued, a process was commenced to determine whether Ms Merchant should be offered alternative employment or be dismissed.

At a meeting to discuss the issue Ms Merchant presented a letter from her GP which said that the menopause was causing her to suffer from a number of health problems which can affect her level of concentration at times and she referred to her menopause several times during the discussion.

The manager decided not to investigate her medical condition, although BT’s performance management policy clearly stated that managers must find out whether the underperformance was being caused by health factors.

He dismissed Ms Merchant for incapability, stating that it was difficult to assess if the menopause did impact on performance.

The judgment

A tribunal upheld Ms Merchant’s claim for unfair dismissal and direct sex discrimination.

The manager had failed to investigate the possible impact of the menopause, the reason being, according to his evidence, that his wife and his HR adviser had both been through the menopause and so he could make a judgment on the effect on Ms Merchant’s performance and the impact on her ability to concentrate.

This failure was a clear breach of BT’s own performance management policy could only be explained by the fact that he did not take menopause, a strictly female condition, seriously as a medical condition and that he would never have adopted “this bizarre and irrational approach with other non-female-related conditions”, in circumstances where it is self-evident that all women will experience their menopause in different ways and with differing symptoms.

Therefore, the failure to refer the claimant for medical investigation, after being informed of her menopause, before taking the decision to dismiss, was direct sex discrimination as a man with ill-health in comparable underperforming circumstances would not have been treated in the same way.

To read the full article, click here.

Since this case, there has been a steady increase in the number of menopause related sex discrimination claims in the UK.

In 2019, an employment tribunal found that a woman was unfairly dismissed after disclosing that she was experiencing menopause. The symptoms were affecting her concentration at work, and her employer failed to make reasonable adjustments.

While not legally required, supporting women through menopause at work is clearly in employers’ best interest. Accommodating needs like flexible work hours or time off for medical appointments, and training managers on the topic can help avoid potentially costly discrimination claims. Most importantly, it promotes an inclusive culture where people of all backgrounds feel valued and supported to thrive in their careers.

Best Practise for HR: Policies and Support

Women make up nearly half the UK workforce, and menopause is a natural stage of life that every woman will go through if they work long enough. Having appropriate policies and resources in place signals that a company values women's wellbeing and long term contributions.

Some examples of best practice menopause support in the workplace include:

  • Educating managers and staff about the menopause and how it may affect work. This helps create an inclusive culture where women feel comfortable discussing their needs.

  • Reviewing workplace temperature controls and ensuring women have flexibility to make adjustments as needed for their symptoms.

  • Providing information about menopause and treatment options as part of an employee wellness programme.

  • Evaluating attendance and leave policies to ensure they accommodate menopause-related illness and medical appointments.

  • Making workplace adjustments on a case by case basis for women experiencing severe symptoms. This could include flexible work arrangements, reduced hours or different work duties.

  • Monitoring the number of women leaving employment during the menopause transition and conducting exit interviews to identify any policies or support that could improve retention.

  • Reviewing recruitment processes to ensure potential discrimination against older female candidates. Requirements for “high energy” or long hours may disadvantage women in their 40s and 50s.

With supportive policies and resources in place, organisations can help create an inclusive work environment where women feel valued during and after the menopause transition. The potential benefits to recruitment, retention, wellbeing and productivity make a compelling case for all companies to consider.

Menopause at work: A case study on effective support

If a business does not employ many older women, they may think the menopause does not affect them. However, with an ageing population and women staying in the workforce longer, the menopause is becoming relevant for more employers. Having a supportive work environment and policies in place can aid in long-term recruitment and retention of female staff.

Providing menopause support is also an important part of employee wellbeing. Research shows women are more likely to leave their job during menopause due to lack of support. A supportive employer can gain a competitive advantage by reducing costs associated with high staff turnover and absence.

An example of good practise is Simplyhealth, a UK health insurance provider. They identified the menopause as a key staff issue and worked with unions to develop a menopause policy. The policy allows flexible working, offers paid time off for medical appointments, and provides staff training on the menopause.

The menopause policy also helped Simplyhealth successfully defend a sex discrimination case brought by an employee. The Employment Tribunal found the company had taken reasonable steps to support the claimant and prevent discrimination.

With an ageing population and increasing awareness of menopause rights, more sex discrimination cases related to the menopause may arise. Having a clear policy and training in place can help demonstrate an employer has taken their duty of care seriously, as in the Simplyhealth case. Overall, supporting women through the menopause at work is not just legally prudent but vital for long term business success.

Menopause in the Workplace

So there you have it, the legal case for supporting women through menopause in the workplace. While providing menopause support may not technically be a legal requirement for all employers, failing to do so opens you up to risk of discrimination claims and impacts employee wellbeing, retention, and productivity. The menopause is a natural life stage, not an illness, and with the right support women can continue thriving in their careers. If you want to build a truly inclusive, diverse, and forward-thinking business, it pays to understand the challenges of the menopause and put the right policies and training in place. Your people will thank you for it.

For HR resources that will help support your people, whilst protecting the organisation, take a look at our resource page:

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