Workplace stigma isn’t just associated with mental health. Menopause, closely linked to anxiety and depression rarely grabs the same headlines.
The menopause affects every woman differently in both an emotional and physical sense. The impact it has on an individual’s health can affect how they work, their relationships with colleagues and has obvious knock-on effects for absence and productivity.
Symptoms such as insomnia, difficulty concentrating and forgetfulness can lead to problems with work performance, decision making and decreased confidence.
Employers could risk facing claims for sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 if they fail to properly support their female employees.
In Davies v the Scottish Court and Tribunal Service, the Tribunal found that Mrs Davies was discriminated against because of her menopause. You can read our article here but in essence, she dismissed for gross misconduct after she became concerned her medication in a jug of water was being drunk by someone else. The judge found that Mrs Davies’ severe menopause symptoms had amounted to a disability and that she had been discriminated against in respect of her disability by being dismissed. She was awarded compensation, including for ‘injury to feelings’. This case is currently subject to an appeal.
In Merchant v BT plc, Mrs Merchant was dismissed due to poor performance. The employer’s process demanded an investigation as to whether the under-performance was due to health factors but despite the employee providing a note from her GP declaring her menopausal symptoms were adversely affecting her, the line manager chose to ignore the possible impact.
The Tribunal upheld the claims, on the grounds that the manager would never have adopted “this bizarre and irrational approach” with other non-female-related conditions. A man with comparable symptoms would not have been held accountable in the same way. In this case, her dismissal was found to be a case of sex discrimination.
What can employers do?
- Introducing a clear menopause policy or guidance documents to inform employees and managers needing support over menopausal issues.
- Providing adequate training for line managers to support this policy.
- Assess each case on its own merits as every woman experiences menopause differently.
- Consider making reasonable adjustments such as a desk fan or offering an extra uniform, but could also include considering flexible working, reallocating certain tasks, providing private rest areas, ensuring there is constant access to water and toilet facilities.
- Creating an open and transparent environment. Menopause is not often discussed, even by women, particularly in relation to the symptoms experienced. By creating a working environment in which employees and managers feel comfortable having open discussions, organisations will be taking steps to protect their staff and themselves.
- Working closely with occupational health specialists to identify any other reasonable adjustments that may make working life easier for menopausal women.