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‘Lack of menopause support puts women at risk of disciplinary action and failed promotions’

‘Lack of menopause support puts women at risk of disciplinary action and failed promotions’

Millions of women are at risk of disciplinary action and failed promotions due to a lack of understanding and support around the menopause from their employer, according to new research.

Released to coincide with World Menopause Day (October 18th, 2021) not-for-profit healthcare provider, Benenden Health claimed only a fifth of employees (19%) are aware of any kind of awareness or available support at work for when they suffer ill health as a result of the menopause.

Despite 95% of businesses that have had an employee experience ill health as a result of the menopause believing it negatively impacted on their work, the findings reveal that many employers are not providing appropriate support or communicating its provision of assistance successfully.

Disciplinary procedure

As a result, through no fault of their own, as many as a quarter of women (23%) who have suffered ill health as a result of the menopause have left jobs, with a fifth not given a pay rise or promotion (18%) and more than one in ten having to go through a disciplinary procedure (13%).

Women are typically between 45 and 55 years of age when they reach the menopause, but around 1 in 100 women experience it before 40 years of age. This is known as premature menopause or premature ovarian insufficiency.

Common symptoms of the menopause include hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, difficulty sleeping, low mood and problems with memory and concentration.

As a result of its findings, Benenden Health has launched a new, dedicated online menopause hub, shedding light on the topic and offering support and advice to employees that are affected by the menopause.

Lack of awareness

Naomi Thompson, head of OD at Benenden Health, said: “Whether they know about it or not, the vast majority of businesses either contain individuals that are currently experiencing the menopause or will do so in the future. Through no fault of their own, these individuals are too often not being considered or supported in the workplace, whether through a lack of awareness, embarrassment or resources.

“It is extremely disappointing to see that so many people who are experiencing the menopause are finding their working lives affected to the point of facing disciplinary action, stalled career progression and even leaving their jobs. Often the support required within the workplace is not too complex or expensive, so opening up channels of communication and taking steps to support employees can have a hugely positive impact on both individual wellbeing and overall business performance.”

The ONS also highlighted that women in their 40s and 50s (the age group that is most affected by menopause) is the fastest growing workforce demographic. According to the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, nearly eight out of 10 of menopausal women are in work and three out of four women experience symptoms.

Equality Act 

Kate Hindmarch, partner in employment law at Langleys Solicitors said: “Of the 70% of women in employment in the UK, almost 4.5 million are in the menopausal age bracket. An increasing number of women are taking their employers to court and citing the menopause as proof of unfair dismissal and/or sex or disability discrimination.

“Menopause at work is covered by certain pieces of legislation to protect employees. Under the Equality Act of 2010, menopause is covered under the protected characteristics of age, sex and disability discrimination.

“Therefore, if a worker or job applicant feels they have been treated unfairly, they may be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal. According to the latest UK data, there have been 10 employment tribunals referencing the claimant’s menopause in the first six months of 2021 alone.

“The claim must be made within three months (minus one day) of the act or acts of discrimination about which they are complaining. However, it is recommended that the employee talks to their employer and acas before doing this to try to resolve the matter informally without going to a tribunal, as this can be very costly.

“Compensation under the Equality Act is uncapped meaning that employees can claim for loss of earnings, loss of pensions and issue proceedings against individuals in the workplace, who could have personal liability for any compensation awarded. This type of case can damage an employer’s standing in terms of being a good and reasonable employer and supporting the health and wellbeing of all employees – not just women.

Measures employers can take

Kate continued: “There are measures that employers should take to assist employees who may be experiencing menopause at work to avoid Tribunal proceedings. For example, employers should carefully manage sickness absence or declining job performance to avoid the chances of a discrimination claim and make changes to allow workers to manage their symptoms, such as providing a fan, longer breaks or flexible working. Longer term, it may be helpful to review and amend an employee’s role or duties, such as facilitating  part-time working or switching to a job share.

“Employers should also ensure that managers are trained in dealing with menopause-related issues and that staff feel that they are able to discuss such issues openly with their managers or HR, through sensitively managed and confidential conversations. This is particularly important in male-dominated industries as there is a lack of awareness among male managers.”

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