Managing the effects of the menopause at work is important for employers, not least because of the number of people who are affected and also the range of symptoms suffered by those experiencing the menopause which can last for years and go far beyond the stereotypical hot flashes. These can include anxiety, changes in mood, difficulty sleeping, night sweats, poor memory, tiredness, poor concentration, feelings of loss of self, changes in skin conditions, thinning hair and slowed metabolism. Consequently, research undertaken by the Fawcett Society and Channel 4, “Menopause and the Workplace” reported last year that one in ten women have quit their jobs because of menopause symptoms. For those going through the menopause, it is, therefore, incredibly important that they are supported in the workplace and for employers to take positive action to ensure that support is not only in place but is visible and effectively communicated.
On 28 July 2022 the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee published a report, “Menopause and the workplace” following an inquiry launched the previous year. The Government’s response to the report was published on 24 January 2023 and addresses the recommendations of the report. Although the Government has not accepted the recommendation to launch a consultation on making the menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, it has noted that it may be possible to expand the definition of disability and/or the duty to make reasonable adjustments although these options would require primary legislation. There is, however, caselaw demonstrating that discriminatory conduct in respect of the menopause can be addressed by way of compensation for injury to feelings for the protected characteristics of age, disability and/or sex.
In McCabe v Selazar [ET/2200501/2021] the CEO told Mrs McCabe during an executive meeting in May 2020 to, “calm down … don’t let the hormones get out of control” and went on to dismiss her in late September 2020. She was awarded an overall injury to feelings award of £20,000 plus interest of £3,235.07 taking into account detriments, her removal as a company director, an unfair dismissal procedure and significant injury to feelings over a period of 2 years.
In another case, A v Bonmarche Ltd (in administration) [ETS/4107766/19] the Claimant’s manager related numerous incidents at work to her being “menopausal”. Senior management failed to address her complaints about her manager and despite agreement with HR regarding a phased return to work after a breakdown, her manager allocated her full hours on the rota and she was told she would need to take annual leave if she only wanted reduced hours. She resigned and was awarded £18,000 for injury to feelings due to discrimination on the protected grounds of age and sex.
Employers can put in place support including a menopause policy, offering opportunities for open conversations at work about the menopause and its symptoms, undertaking risk assessments and providing adjustments such as access to a desk fan, allowing staff to work from home when necessary and making small tweaks to dress code policies to address fluctuating temperatures whilst retaining smart, professional attire.