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An Opinium survey, commissioned by Vodafone, quizzed just over five thousand women. It found a third of them hid their menopause symptoms at work and 43 per cent felt too embarrassed to ask for support (1)
Of those that took part in the research, 50 per cent said they believed there is a stigma around talking about the menopause. While 64 per cent of women in the UK agree they would like to see more workplace support for women experiencing it.
In describing the menopause the NHS state (2):
it is a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, as a woman's oestrogen levels decline. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51.
But around 1 in 100 women experience the menopause before 40 years of age. This is known as premature menopause or premature ovarian insufficiency.
Most women will experience menopausal symptoms. Some of these can be quite severe and have a significant impact on your everyday activities.
The symptoms can vary for each individual. Some of those symptoms, which can inevitably impact on an employee and their work may include difficulty sleeping and night sweats, feeling tired and lacking energy, mood swings, feeling anxious and panic attacks, hot flushes and struggling to remember things, concentrate and focus.
For the worker it can, understandably, be a sensitive and personal matter and it is highly likely to be an incredibly difficult and stressful time.
Few workers are properly prepared for the start of the menopause, which does mean they may feel ill equipped to manage its symptoms at work.
As the research highlighted, coping with menopausal symptoms at work does mean that employees will often feel afraid to talk to their employer about it.
The employment rate of women aged 50-64 has risen substantially since 2000, from 53 per cent to 68 per cent in 2020 (3)
Most women over 50 will have, or have had, perimenopausal or menopausal symptoms that affect their work. For many those symptoms will be severe.
Given that women represent a large proportion of the workforce it should make the menopause mainstream and as important as any other occupational health issue.
An employer should minimise, reduce or where possible remove workplace health and safety risks for workers.
It can include making sure menopausal symptoms are not made worse by the workplace and/or its work practices and making effective changes to support a worker to manage their symptoms while performing their duties.
Straightforward changes that can be made can include providing a fan, allowing the worker to take breaks when needed, providing a private rest area if required, flexible working and working from home.
The Trades Union Congress has produced a guide titled Supporting Women through the Menopause (4)
The comprehensive guide recommends that employers should ensure that all line managers have been trained to understand how the menopause can affect work and what adjustments may be necessary to support women who are experiencing the menopause.
Menopause and perimenopause are not specifically protected under the Equality Act 2010 (5)
However, if a worker is treated unfairly because of the menopause and perimenopause, this may amount to discrimination because, for example, of their sex and/or a disability, and/or their age.
With women now working longer the menopause will have an impact on female employees for a considerable period of their working life. It is essential, therefore, that employers create a working environment that is fully understanding and supportive.
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(1) Survey for how many women hid menopause [Internet] newscentre.vodafone.co.uk [Cited 15.3.20] https://newscentre.vodafone.co.uk/press-release/new-global-employee-commitment-on-menopause/
(2) What is Menopause? [Internet] www.nhs.uk [Cited 15.3.20] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/menopause/#:~:text=The%20menopause%20is%20when%20a,years%20before%20they%20stop%20altogether
(3) Employment Rate has risen since 2000 for women aged 50-64 [Internet] www.ageing-better.org.uk [Cited 15.3.20] https://www.ageing-better.org.uk/work-state-ageing-2020#:~:text=The%20employment%20rate%20of%20women,to%20just%20eight%20percentage%20points.
(4) Supporting Women through the Menopause [Internet] www.tuc.org.uk [Cited 15.3.20] https://www.tuc.org.uk/resource/supporting-women-through-menopause
(5) Menopause and perimenopause are not specifically protected under the Equality Act [Internet] www.legislation.gov.uk [Cited 15.3.20] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents