Menopause is a natural biological process, a significant life transition and an organisational issue that may have a direct or indirect impact on workers whether physically, emotionally and/or socially. While all biological women will go through the menopause, its impact varies widely and it still remains a taboo topic in many workplaces. Raising awareness of this issue is key to reducing the stigma attached to menopause and promoting more candid conversations about it.
Employers will need to pay more attention to menopause in the coming years due to demographic shifts and a rising number of menopause-related claims in the Employment Tribunal. Every year October is menopause awareness month and on 18 October, World Menopause Day is observed with the goal of increasing public knowledge of menopause and the resources available to enhance wellbeing.
As this year’s menopause awareness month closes, we reflect on the significance of this topic and how employers can be proactive in this space.
Why is it important?
According to a recent Deloitte Global report: ‘Women @ Work 2023: A global outlook’, research revealed that when it comes to menstruation and menopause, many employees suffer in silence: more than a quarter of women (28%) experiencing symptoms related to menopause and 40% with pain symptoms work without taking time off. Women in the UK experiencing challenges related to menopause are more likely than their global counterparts to work through any challenges (30% in the UK compared to 20% of global respondents).
Furthermore, given demographic shifts in the UK workforce and issues regarding attracting and retaining talent, it is critical that employers understand the pertinent problems and act to assist these workers. Failing to do so may result in legal liability as well as the departure of valuable talent from the workforce. There is a steady uptick in the number of Employment Tribunal claims centred around menopause, which highlights the difficult reality that many women face in the workplace.
Earlier this year, the UK Government appointed a Menopause Employment Champion as an ambassador for the agenda to raise awareness of the menopause and assist employers in supporting employees experiencing the menopause by, for example, developing policies and creating more supportive work environments. On World Menopause Day, the government published its policy paper providing an update on the Champion’s work and signposting employers to guidance on its Help to Grow website. This is a positive step in the right direction. Should we have a change of government following the next general election, we are likely to see more developments in this area – the Labour Party has declared that it would implement a number of menopause-related policies, including requiring larger employers to create a "menopause action plan" and introducing menopause guidelines tailored for smaller businesses.
Menopause in the Employment Tribunals
Although menopause is not a protected characteristic in and of itself under the Equality Act, staff experiencing menopause may instead be able to bring a discrimination claim related to age, sex, disability and/or gender reassignment. Quite often an individual may rely on more than one protected characteristic in support of their claim, therefore making menopause discrimination claims complex to bring and defend, as well as potentially costly, given that a discrimination award in a successful claim is uncapped.
A recent employment tribunal case reminds employers of the importance of providing sufficient training to equip managers with the tools to support and manage employees who are experiencing menopause. In this case, an office worker was awarded over £37,000 in compensation after her employer claimed that menopause was her “excuse for everything”. The tribunal held that comments made by her employer were “deeply insulting” and amounted to harassment on the grounds of sex.
Being proactive as an employer
Given the pay challenges for employers and the increased emphasis on the broader benefits packages, we are now seeing more employers taking action and putting policies in place around the menopause as part of wider DE&I initiatives, and as part of their employee value proposition.
Popular initiatives include:
- Flexible working arrangements – allowing workers to amend working days/hours, as well as place of work.
- Policies – ensuring there are specific procedures in place when supporting workers through menopause. Amendments to existing policies e.g. absence management and flexible working may also facilitate this.
- Training – ensuring the tone is set from the top, managers and senior leaders should encourage conversations and questions through training about how workers can support their colleagues and teach them how to recognise when a colleague may need additional support.
- Cultural change – creating an open culture within the workplace in which issues surrounding menopause are discussed freely and support is widely offered. This can be done through the implementation of support networks, forums and introducing a ‘Menopause Champion’.
Implementing one or a combination of the above will help employers recruit and retain talent, foster an inclusive culture and increase productivity amongst employees.
For further advice about implementing menopause policies and positive steps in your workplace, please contact Marian Bloodworth or your usual contact in the Deloitte Legal Employment team.
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