Employment Tribunal cases citing menopause are on the rise
Menopause cases are reaching Employment Tribunals at a record rate.
According to figures from HM Courts and Tribunals Service, supported by menopause experts, in the whole of 2018, only five cases revolving around menopause reached an Employment Tribunal. This rose to six cases in 2019, 16 in 2020, and 10 just in the first six months of 2021 in England. In addition, also in the first six months of 2021, a further 116 cases regarding menopause were dealt with in employment disputes in-house in England.
There are many cases in the rest of the UK too. For example, in one case in Scotland a woman was awarded £28,000 where she had claimed that her boss had repeatedly humiliated her in front of her colleagues regarding her symptoms of menopause.
Although menopause is not officially classed as a disability, more than ever before, menopause symptoms are being acknowledged as having ‘a long-term and substantial adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’, which is the official definition of a disability.
This dramatic rise in the number of employment tribunals citing menopause shows that mistreatment of people due to their symptoms is no longer being tolerated in the workplace. Managers with little understanding of the condition are increasingly being called out for inappropriate behaviour when it comes to managing staff suffering from the symptoms of menopause.
Menopause is a taboo subject
As life expectancy increases, women and those affected by menopause are spending almost half of their lives living with menopause. For many, it significantly impacts their physical and mental health. Despite this, it’s still a taboo subject and more than half of women surveyed would not feel comfortable discussing menopause with their manager.
We should all be aware that menopause isn’t just a women’s issue; it’s everyone’s issue. It’s important, therefore, that managers are involved in creating opportunities for people to talk about their experiences including women, men and non-binary colleagues who might be directly or indirectly affected.
What’s the impact of this?
Many women and some trans men who are in their late forties/early fifties who are at the top of their game can very quickly fall victim to the menopause, where loss of confidence, loss of memory, hot flushes, irritability, tearfulness, anxiety or panic attacks and many other symptoms lead them to doubt themselves. Many women leave their jobs as they feel they can no longer cope. This could mean that your company loses valuable, experienced staff.
It’s a disappointing fact that many organisations don’t even acknowledge the menopause, let alone provide support, with over 70% of women saying that their workplace doesn’t offer any support at all to those experiencing the effects of menopause.
What can employers do to change this?
It is extremely important that employees dealing with menopause are supported in the workplace. Here are a few things your company can do to help.
Education and myth-busting
Young women are rarely told that menopause is not just a phase that they will go through, but that it will be with them forever. Likewise, although most people will be in their late forties or early fifties when they begin the menopause, it can be significantly earlier. So, open conversations about menopause and good, practical advice is key.
Peer support groups
Some companies have begun to hold monthly virtual group sessions for those going through the menopause, giving them a confidential, supportive area where they can talk about their experiences and support each other. This is something which is quite easy to set up and will go some way to show your workforce that you are serious about helping and supporting menopausal people.
Making reasonable adjustments
Clearly, you should recognise the need to consider any reasonable adjustments to address the challenges that menopausal women may suffer, in the same way as you would for any other employee with a disability. However, you should be conscious of the fact that although flexible working may be a great adjustment for some, reduced hours and therefore reduced pay is not the answer for many women.
What does help is a line manager who is considerate and understanding, and listens to the specific needs of their colleague to help where they can. This can be as simple as acknowledging that more frequent toilet breaks may be necessary or providing a fan if the employee is experiencing hot flushes.
Finding external advice and support
It’s very sad to say that many GPs are still working with out-of-date information regarding the menopause and its treatment, and many people may have already attended their GP practice a few times already, so this may not always be the best place to suggest your employees go for help.
However, a very good option is to direct them to Menopause Doctor which is a website set up by a menopause specialist Dr Louise Newson. This site gives an enormous amount of helpful information for women going through the menopause. It also gives a great insight into the condition for men and women who want to help their partners or colleagues, without them feeling anxious about asking awkward questions.
Menopause support in the workplace promotes a work culture where understanding and empathy is paramount, and the promotion of menopause-friendly workplaces can only be seen to be a step forward. Everyone needs to be aware of the facts, so that stereotyping of people experiencing menopause is eliminated. Thus, your business can avoid contributing to the rising discrimination claims and Employment Tribunals.