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What can happen when you don’t support menopause in the workplace?

Nicola Green helps organisations address menopause in the workplace by providing  practical advice and support.  Here, Nicola looks at some of the issues surrounding the menopause for employers: 

A recent report by Fawcett Society and Channel 4 found that 10 per cent of women affected by menopause have had to leave their place of work.

I have met some of these women. I have also met women who have demoted themselves or reduced their working hours due to their menopausal symptoms.

There are varying reasons why women decide to leave their careers, and this decision isn’t just made by women in high powered positions in the workplace.

I remember one lady specifically telling me that she felt she had to leave because she was so fearful that one day, she would break down in the board meeting and never have the confidence to walk back in there again. She never informed her employer of the real reason she was leaving through fear of judgement.

Another lady was a lawyer who had voluntarily demoted herself to an assistant role, as she was so scared by her brain fog and insomnia and didn’t feel she could perform as she used to.

Others leave their careers to try and save their personal relationships at home.

I work with organisations who are fundamentally reducing any future risk of an Employment Tribunal. They are starting to put measures in place to raise awareness and support their staff, but also to protect their business.

However, the risk is absolutely apparent, and you will not be surprised by the stories I hear from employees at workplaces I have yet to work with.

Addressing and supporting this topic in the workplace is inclusive of all employees. It is no longer a topic to be laughed about, but one that needs to be fully understood and respected by all.

Take a moment to consider these questions:

Are you really dealing with a performance related issue or is it something else?

Does your employee need to reduce their hours, or could you provide some additional support?

What support can you provide for someone who is struggling to remember her words during meetings?

In order to raise greater awareness of the legal implications of not understanding and supporting menopause in the workplace, Laura Ramos, Employment Solicitor at Wards Solicitors, has supported this article and provided some useful case studies.

Menopause in the workplace: Case Studies

Menopause is becoming a workplace issue and the number of Employment Tribunal cases citing menopause has increased in the last couple of years. Recent research carried out by BUPA estimated that nearly 1 million women have been forced out of the employment market due to menopausal symptoms and lack of support, awareness, bad practice and discrimination in the workplace.

It is well known that symptoms of menopause can include hot flushes, night sweats, sleeping difficulties, low mood, anxiety, depression and problems with memory or concentration. All of these symptoms can affect women in the workplace. Supporting women whose lives are impacted by menopause can bring significant benefits to a business, including retaining talent, a happy workforce, more productivity, minimising legal risks and the steep of costs of defending a Tribunal claim, as well as the costs of re-hiring and re-training.

The case studies below illustrate different forms of discrimination, lack of support and awareness in the workplace. All names are fictitious.

Case Study 1

Anna was 48 years old when she started experiencing severe menopausal symptoms. She suffered from low mood, anxiety, and depression. She was signed off work for three months by her GP. During this period, her manager started a formal process to deal with her sickness absence which resulted in a formal warning for taking sick leave.

Anna is likely to have been discriminated against on grounds of disability if her menopausal symptoms amount to a disability under the Equality Act. It has been recognised in case law that severe menopausal symptoms can amount to a disability.

When an employee has a disability, an employer has a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments, which can include adjusting their absence policy in cases of disability related absences.

(The facts of this case are based on the case of Rooney v Leicester City Council EA-000070-DA)

Case Study 2

Helen has been suffering from severe menopausal symptoms. She was a team leader and managed her own team. The symptoms she experienced included night sweats, exhaustion, difficulties to concentrate and brain fog. On a few occasions at work, she was unable to speak in meetings and present to colleagues due to brain fog. This affected her confidence, self-esteem, and productivity.

Her manager started a formal performance management process. Helen explained to her manager that her symptoms were caused by menopause. Her manager disregarded Helen’s explanation and decided, based on his own knowledge of menopause based on his wife’s symptoms, that menopause did not cause those symptoms and that the symptoms were unrelated to Helen’s performance, and dismissed her for poor performance.

Helen is likely to have been unfairly dismissed and discriminated against, if her symptoms amount to a disability, by her manager not engaging Occupational Health, making assumptions about Helen’s health, and not considering alternatives to dismissal.

(The facts of this case are partly based on the case of Merchant V Bt Plc [2012] ET/140135/11)

Case Study 3

Emma’s menopausal symptoms include insomnia which affects her concentration at work. She has requested flexible hours to start later but her request has been rejected. In addition, her manager has referred to her as “menopausal” in the past when she has made a mistake in front of colleagues.

Emma is likely to have been discriminated against if her symptoms amount to a disability and the name-calling is likely to amount to sex harassment.

(Some facts of this case are partly based on the case of A v Bonmarche Ltd 4107766/2019)

Conclusion

In short, discrimination in the workplace can also take the form of not being awarded a bonus, not being promoted, demotion, formal action such as warnings, failure to make reasonable adjustments and dismissal.

Wards Solicitors’ Employment team advises employees who have experienced or are experiencing the above treatment in the workplace, and employers who may face one of the above scenarios and wish to minimise legal risks and costs.

Solicitor Laura Ramos specialises in all areas of employment law, including Employment Tribunal claims, with a particular focus on employment disputes. She also provides HR support to businesses.

Email Laura: at Laura.Ramos@wards.uk.com

Telephone: 0117 929 2811

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