The second in our series of articles explores the issues surrounding menopause and the workplace.
In a recent victory for women everywhere…
…Scottish Court and Tribunal Service (SCTS)’s worker Mandy Davies won a tribunal case against her employers for wrongful dismissal, claiming disability discrimination due to her menopause. SCTS had dismissed Ms. Davies claiming ‘gross misconduct’, despite her perfect record at the company. Instead, Ms. Davies, who suffered from menopause-related heavy bleeding, blurred vision, headaches, and memory loss, believes she was dismissed because of her symptoms, rather than any misconduct. The Judge ruled in her favour under the Equality Act of 2010, awarding her £19,000 and insisted she get her job back. In essence, the Equality Act protects workers from discrimination in the workplace, and in this case, from wrongful dismissal as a result of the menopause.
…women in the workforce have clear rights, and cannot be discriminated against because of their menopause.
This case sets a precedent for future similar cases. In other words, it shows that women in the workforce have clear rights, and cannot be discriminated against because of their menopause. The menopause was considered a ‘disability’ in this case, because Ms. Davies symptoms were severe, long-lasting, and above all, had a substantial negative effect on her daily activities. While the menopause is rarely considered a disability in general terms, this case has sparked great discussion about a woman’s rights regarding the menopause and the workplace.
Your rights don’t start and end with wrongful dismissal cases. The Equality Act can protect against discrimination even in cases where your employer fails to make adequate policy adjustments to accommodate menopausal symptoms. That is, if there are policies that adversely affect menopausal women (such as a strict dress code that affects your performance), an employer is liable for age, sex, or disability discrimination. Additionally, it is worth enquiring about whether your employer has a menopause policy in place. If not, they may have a responsibility to consider one.
Likewise, there are likely policies already in place that you have the right to use to your advantage. For example, in the UK you have a legal right to request flexible working hours if you have worked under your employer for at least 26 weeks, and your employer is legally obliged to reasonably consider your request, including holding a meeting with you to discuss the request and offering an appeal process. What’s important here above anything else is understanding your employer’s policies and beginning those discussions, knowing that you are protected by the Equality Act against discrimination.
One organisation that knows all about getting it right when it comes to menopause policy is the University of Leicester. Researchers Joanna Brewis, Vanessa Beck, Andrea Davies and Jesse Matheson compiled a 2017 Government Report outlining the effects of the menopause on women’s economic participation.
…a significant proportion do experience bothersome symptoms so it is very important that employers take this issue seriously.
We spoke to Joanna Brewis about the report and what conclusions her team drew from their research on both an academic and personal level. Joanna told us of the research: “We realised both during and after working on the report just how taboo menopause is as a subject but at the same time how women and men alike want to know more about it, as it is also shrouded in mystery. We firmly believe that menopause is not (just) a women’s issue in the sense that it can affect the colleagues, managers, partners, family and friends of the mid-life woman who is experiencing it.”
“Menopause should probably be rendered as menopauses plural as every woman’s experience is different. Not all women have bothersome symptoms, and some have no symptoms at all apart from changes in their menstrual cycle. However, a significant proportion do experience bothersome symptoms so it is very important that employers take this issue seriously. This is because, first, the UK workforce is getting older and the most rapidly growing group of workers are women over 50. Moreover, the number of new jobs being created is predicted to be more than double the number of new entrants to the labour market in the next few years. Mid-life women can struggle at work, or even leave their jobs, because of their menopause symptoms, but employers need to be able to retain them, especially as labour turnover can be costly.”
What is clear from the research is that some women are leaving their employment due to the negative effects of their symptoms and the inability or unwillingness of employers to accommodate them. Joanna notes that “…there is also the social responsibility case: ensuring that mid-life women are supported at work during menopause because it is the right thing for employers to do, and allows them to continue earning an income and deriving the many psychological benefits of work for as long as they wish.”
Equality and diversity training encompassing menopause will form a solid foundation for any such initiative.
Almost a year on from the report, the question remains: have employers taken the issue seriously? Joanna tells us: “We are delighted that so many organisations are realising just how significant this topic is, the Royal Mail, RSPB, E.ON. Severn Trent Water, the University of Leicester, Aviva, several police services and the Environment Agency amongst them. A menopause policy or set of guidelines which provides options for women including occupational health support, flexible working patterns, workwear or uniforms made of breathable, natural fabrics, a tailored absence policy, access to cold water, natural light and good ventilation amongst other mechanisms represents sensible, business-savvy and socially responsible leadership. Equality and diversity training encompassing menopause will form a solid foundation for any such initiative.”
The message is clear: “The menopause needs to be normalised, at work as elsewhere. We want to see it become a run of the mill conversation topic in organizations, just as pregnancy and maternity leave are.”