Women over 50 years old are the fastest growing demographic in the workplace according to a survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in 2019 and the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51 years old.
Despite this, a survey conducted by the Fawcett Society and Channel 4 on approximately 4,000 women aged 45-55, who are currently or have previously experienced the perimenopause or the menopause, revealed shocking statistics that one in ten women who worked during the menopause have left a job due to their symptoms. Eight out of ten women also say their employer has not shared information, trained staff, or put in place a menopause absence policy.
The government’s response to the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee’s report on “Menopause and the Workplace” has brought a spotlight on the government and employers in terms of considering what improvements can be made to better assist and support menopausal women in the workplace. However, the majority of the Committees’ suggestions on reforming the current law relating to menopause in the workplace were rejected and the general consensus of the government was that employer led action and support is the solution, rather than government intervention. This means that employers need to be proactive and innovative in their approach to menopause in the workplace or else there may be negative consequences for their organisations.
Please note that it is recognised that people who do not identify as women may also go through the menopause. However, menopausal women will be the focus of this article.
What are common symptoms of the menopause?
Women can be affected by the menopause differently. Symptoms between individuals can vary both in content and severity. However, common symptoms experienced can include:
- mood swings,
- hot flashes,
- issues with sleep,
All of the above can have a significant impact on an individual’s performance at work and their job satisfaction, which can result in them eventually leaving their job.
Why should employers take action?
- Economic reasons
As mentioned above, it is not uncommon for women who experience symptoms of menopause to leave their jobs as a result, which can be costly for employers who then often have to find a replacement. Statistics from Oxford Economics suggest that if a woman who earns £25,000 a year leaves her job due to the symptoms of menopause, it will cost her employer over £30,500 to replace her.
- Reputational reasons
Employers that have a reputation for being supportive of employees who are experiencing menopausal symptoms will not only lead to experienced workers remaining in their current job and improving their performance at work but it will also attract the best external female talent, which is integral to the success of an organisation.
- Discrimination claims
The Equality Act 2010 protects individuals from prohibited conduct because of a protected characteristic. Such prohibited conduct includes discrimination arising from disability; indirect discrimination, a failure to make reasonable adjustments for disabled persons; harassment and victimisation. Although menopause is not identified as a protected characteristic, successful claims can be brought on the basis of age, sex and disability. Therefore, employers can be vulnerable to claims being brought against them in employment tribunals where employees feel that they have experienced discrimination, victimisation or harassment in the workplace due to going through the menopause and experiencing menopausal symptoms.
What action can employers take?
Implement specific workplace policies as to how menopausal women will be treated or the incorporation of the same into existing policies
Menopausal women who have absences from work due to ongoing symptoms have experienced disciplinary action as a result, which appears to employees as a punishment for needing time off work to deal with symptoms that are of no fault of their own. Therefore, it has been suggested that amendments could be made to sickness policies, which treat absences due to menopause related symptoms as an ongoing issue rather than multiple, individual absences.
Employers are encouraged to provide menopausal women with flexible working, both in terms of their place of work and the hours that they work. Working from home could assist employees who are experiencing menopausal symptoms in, for example, managing their temperature, ventilation, having constant access to water and wearing more comfortable clothing rather than a prescribed uniform. Working from home would allow such individuals to carry out actions which are tailored to their individual needs, making their symptoms more manageable and consequently, their work more efficient.
Awareness and communication
Surveying the workplace in order to gain a better understanding of employees’ needs can allow employers to identify actions that they can take, which would improve employee satisfaction and demonstrate to employees that their concerns are being listened to.
Employers are also encouraged to appoint menopause advocates that can raise awareness and communicate to employers information regarding the needs of employees experiencing menopause, which, again, will result in employees feeling that they are valued by their employer and increase job satisfaction.
Examples of adjustments that employers can implement in the workplace to assist employees experiencing menopausal related symptoms include but are not limited to, access to drinking water, access to fans at work stations and easy access to toilets.
The number of menopausal women in the workplace is increasing and such individuals make up a large proportion of the workforce in the UK. Therefore, employers that fail to take proactive action in assisting and supporting employees in dealing with menopausal related symptoms risk negative economic and reputational effects on their organisations and make themselves vulnerable to associated claims by employees.
Farleys Solicitors are experts in advising both private and public sector employers on a wide range of employment law and HR matters. For advice and assistance contact our expert employment and HR team on 0845 287 0939 or complete our online contact form.