Menopause, or more specifically, how it affects women at work, is a growing topic among HR professionals, with the CIPD releasing a guide for employers. New research, released this week by Menopause Experts, reveals that a growing number of women are taking their employers to court citing the menopause as proof of unfair dismissal and direct sex discrimination. Employers cannot afford to ignore the trend.
“I can see that this will carry on building until such time as there are some really big, group lawsuits, which I’m sure there will be,” said Dee Murray, the founder and chief executive of Menopause Experts, which carried out the research. “The women in a lot of the big companies are already setting up their own private, internal menopause support groups. If they decide their issues are not supported by HR, you could potentially have a real problem.”
Already, in the first six months of this year, there have been 10 employment tribunal claims referencing the claimant’s menopause, compared to 5 in 2018, 6 in 2019 and 16 in 2020. SME employers in particular, who may not even have an in-house HR, should be aware that they cannot ignore the challenges that women going through the menopause often face, with other research finding that menopause symptoms are likely to impact on both attendance and performance.
Kate Palmer is HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula. She explains:
“Employers may often overlook the impact of menopause on their female employees, but they do so at their peril. Whether out of embarrassment or ignorance, the signs that women are finding it difficult to work through severe physical effects of menopause may not be taken seriously. It’s clear that the practical result of a failure to act correctly is the prospect of more tribunal claims. With some menopausal employees classified as disabled, the consequences of failure to support women at this time in their lives are heftier.
“Women going through the menopause are protected from discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of their age, sex, or disability. However, many workers feel that current legislation does not go far enough to support and protect women in the workplace during this difficult time in their lives. As a result, many experienced and highly skilled women feel they have no choice but to leave their professions. An increased number are enforcing their rights through the employment tribunal, as latest figures suggest. These cases are bringing to the fore the reality of the treatment of women at work and the harassment they can sometimes face.
“There have been calls from MPs for new legislation to be introduced requiring employers to have a specific menopause policy. The Government has now launched an enquiry looking at the impact of menopause discrimination in the workplace and how practices to address this can be implemented.
“It remains to be seen whether the Government will decide to change the law on this issue. However, taking a positive and proactive approach to managing the menopause at work can certainly help employers to retain valued staff, attract new talent, boost productivity, and improve workers’ wellbeing.”