Changing the way we talk about ‘the change’ at work

May 11, 2022

According to the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM), nearly 8 out of 10 of menopausal women are in work. 3 out of 4 women experience symptoms, 1 in 4 could experience serious symptoms. One in three of the workforce will soon be over 50, and retirement ages are now 68.

We have reached a watershed moment for menopause, where the Government has made proposals for change. This is no longer a ‘tick-box’ exercise, but one where employers should make ‘living’, ‘breathing’ changes.  

As employment lawyers and as women, we are on a mission to help. We’re running initiatives and hosting events to help employers to understand everything from the impact of menopause on women, families, employers, and the workplace, through to policies, potential financial and reputational costs, and everything in between.

Could this finally be the menopause revolution? And how can employers be on the right side of change?

A ‘hot’ topic

10 years ago, it seemed unthinkable to discuss menopause at work. The good news? Menopause is now trending. With what feels like a sudden surge of media coverage, parliamentary discussions, figures as Michelle Obama, Nicola Sturgeon and Davina McCall sharing their experiences, and a rise in Employment Tribunals relating to menopause discrimination, this seems like the hottest topic on the HR agenda right now.  

But amidst all the noise, employers might be wondering why they should, and how they can, become a menopause friendly employer.

The demographic argument

8 out of 10 menopausal women are in work. This is the fastest growing demographic in the UK workforce. As this number grows and more of us speak out, employers can no longer put this aside as a ‘women’s issue’.

Essentially this becomes about staff retention – some of your most talented senior leaders in the business have been through, are going through, or will go through this change. Without support you will not only lose talent prematurely, but fail to attract women in the first place.  

The legal argument

Simply put, if you don’t provide menopause support, you may end up facing court action.

The number of Employment Tribunal cases related to the menopause are on the rise. Whilst menopause transition isn’t currently a ‘protected characteristic’, cases have been brought about related to age, sex and disability discrimination and there’s a risk of unfair and constructive dismissal claims. Claims have focussed on rest breaks, reasonable adjustments to the environment such as air con, or even uniform policies.

These cases have a huge cost and time impact, and even if an employer were successful in disputing the claim, the reputational damage is already done.

The wellbeing argument

A happy workforce is a productive workforce and creating an open and positive culture is proven to have a positive effect on employee wellbeing. With menopause symptoms including brain fog, fatigue and anxiety, this can have a detrimental effect on these employees, ultimately impacting their colleagues. Putting steps in place to ensure staff are happy, is not only the right thing to do, but will help the business in the long run.  

The social responsibility argument

Recent years have seen huge strides forwards in terms of diversity and inclusion, and there’s still a long way to go. A diversity policy should encompass the full spectrum of gender, ethnicity, background, education, disability and health. In order for there to be true gender equality in the workplace, menopause must be included in the conversation.

Don’t forget, employers have a duty of care to look after their employees.

Let’s face it, your business can’t avoid the cost of menopause. So, what can employers do?

Simple steps can be taken to start this conversation within your organisation, from educating the workshop and avoiding assumptions, to creating a menopause policy and support initiatives.

Always start with the training! Focus on senior leadership and appoint menopause champions to focus on education and drive social campaigns and workshops. Aim to create a culture of openness.  

Next create a policy with education on the menopause, why it’s importance to the workplace as a whole, list the support available, a contact for concerns, as well as details on how concerns will be handled.

This policy should be accessible for the full workplace and tie into current policies around sickness, performance, flexible working, equal opportunities, and data protection.

And you don’t have to go it alone. Attend external events and get involved in campaigns such as World Menopause Day or Women’s Health Week. Look at notable employers and take inspiration from their initiatives – Vodafone has a publicly available menopause toolkit and ASOS offers flexible work and paid leave.

Doing the right thing

This is no longer a ‘tick-box’ for employers. Notwithstanding the fact that tribunal claims are on the rise, it is about doing the right thing for your employees, offering an inclusive workplace that understands the menopause and can support workers through clear and tangible initiatives.

What’s next on the menopause agenda?

“There are currently talks in parliament about whether a menopause policy should become compulsory in the workplace, or whether menopause should become a protected characteristic. Realistically, any changes recommended by parliament are likely to be non-statutory measures such as awareness campaigns and training.”

Watch our ‘Menopause and the Workplace’ webinar series hosted by the gunnercooke Employment team alongside partner Health and Her Clinic. The team discuss the symptoms of the menopause, what to look out for as an employer, and recent Employment Tribunal cases, as well as our advice on how to make real changes.  

Part 1: Why you should become a menopause friendly employer

Part 2: How you can become a menopause friendly employer

We are here to help. If you’d like to discuss any of the issues raised in this series or for support in your menopause initiatives, please contact our employment lawyers; Angela Brumpton, Emma Hammond, Jo Tindall, and Mini Setty.