Written evidence from Witness Community [MEW0035]

 

About Community Union

Community is a general union, with membership in sectors across the economy including steel, justice and custodial, education, manufacturing, finance and professional, the self-employed, and the third sector.

What is the economic impact of menopause discrimination?

In 2019, we surveyed 600 women members of Community about their experiences of menopause in the workplace. 73% of respondents said that menopause symptoms impacted their ability to function at work.

There is a serious risk that women who experience discrimination because they are undergoing the menopause transition leave the workforce altogether. The UK has an ageing workforce, and with 3.5million menopausal women in work, they are one of the fastest growing parts of the workforce. Yet 1 in 4 menopausal women have considered leaving work[1] because of the impact of their symptoms in the workplace.  The cost of recruiting new staff means there is a clear business case for supporting employees who experience the menopause.

Discrimination is clearly a factor driving the trend for women to leave the workforce, reinforced by lack of support put in place. There is often an unwillingness amongst women to ask for such support as shown by our survey which found 74% of respondents had sought no help at work. Women do not feel able to seek support because of stigma at work and fear that they will be discriminated against if they disclose that they are experiencing the menopause.

Reinforcing these findings, in April/May 2020 we surveyed our 20,000 member strong education section, a majority female workforce, collating responses from women about their experiences of the menopause. This was an additional survey following the one we have conducted in 2019, focusing on our education section members which work as:

Our 2020 education section survey showed that:

53% of our members told us that the menopause had caused them problems and issues at work.

18% said their experiences had prevented them from applying for a promotion.

The extent of the discrimination that women face is illustrated by the fact that only 11% had sought support from their workplace, with many stating that by asking for help they would be perceived negatively, or that they believed no help would be available.

Some of the things our members told us include:

It’s clear that skilled workers are not being supported to live up to their full potential because of the lack of understanding of the menopause and lack of support for workers who go through it. Many women are being dismissed on competency grounds for issues that could have been resolved with adjustments to working conditions.[2]

In 2017 the Department for Education conducted a review of the evidence[3] into the effects of the menopause transition on women’s economic participation in the UK. The research found evidence that women experiencing the menopause transition face difficulty looking for work, reduced hours, and feared redundancy, but also that menopausal symptoms were driving people out of the workforce altogether.

How can businesses factor in the needs of employees going through the menopause?

We have set out the components we believe contribute to a comprehensive menopause policy below, in answer to the question about best practice, however, at a high level the following elements are important.

Businesses need to ensure their staff members, HR and management in particular, are educated about the effects that menopause can have on women. There is little awareness of the menopause, particularly among younger staff, men, and managers, but also among those who are suffering from menopause themselves.

More compassion and understanding are needed particularly amongst managers. There is a disturbing lack of best practice in terms of employer provisions for women. We note a significant stigma surrounding the menopause which prevents it from being discussed openly.

In many cases, businesses can deliver better support in the workplace by making small adjustments which deliver a big difference.

When we asked members in our Education section what would help them to manage their menopausal symptoms at work, they cited factors like ‘The ability to go to the toilet when needed.’ ‘Better control over the room temperature or an adjustment to the dress code.’ ‘A support system where there is someone to talk to that understands what it is like.’

To ensure that they are appropriately factoring in the needs of employees going through the menopause, employers should carry out a risk assessment to consider the specific needs of workers who are undergoing the menopause designed to ensure that the working environment will not exacerbate those symptoms.

How can practices addressing workplace discrimination relating to menopause be implemented? For example, through guidance, advice, adjustments, or enforcement.

Advice and education are essential as well as enforcing existing equality legislation to ensure that employers are following best practice.

What are examples of best or most inclusive practices?

We believe it is best practice for employers to work together with workers and their representatives to design a comprehensive menopause policy and to follow it.

Members in our Voice (Education) section told us that they did not know whether their employer had a menopause policy- just 5% said they knew that their employer had one.

At Community we have developed a model menopause policy which sets out best practice which we work with employers to implement at their locations.

Our best practice policy includes:

This is not a definitive list and it is best practice for employers to consider additional suggestions put forward by staff. It’s important that workers who are affected by menopause policy and practice are consulted and able to shape the provisions put in place. This includes through engagement with trade unions.

We have implemented our policy with a number of employers we work with including the NSPCC, a leading children’s charity.

How well does current legislation protect women from discrimination in the workplace associated with the menopause?

Existing legislation sets out that  though the menopause is not an illness or a disability, the effects of the symptoms can be disabling for women. Consequently, a court could find that an employer who had not properly supported women undergoing the menopause is guilty of discrimination. Menopause discrimination can be, and has been classed as age, sex, or disability discrimination.

Despite the fact that the equality act protects workers against discrimination, when Community surveyed our members about their experiences of menopause in the workplace, in 2019, we found that 81% had had no support or adjustments. This indicates that workers are not being supported within the limits of current legislation.

An employer must also minimise, reduce or where possible remove workplace health and safety risks for workers, which includes making sure that menopausal symptoms are not made worse by the workplace or its work practices and making changes to help workers manage their symptoms when doing their job.

Again, in theory this provision provides significant protection for women experiencing the menopausal transition, however, in practice existing legislation is not being used to its full effect.

Should current legislation be amended?             

We do not believe there is a requirement for amendments to existing legislation, rather resources need to be invested in providing clear and unambigious guidance to employers, information to workers, breaking the stigma and educating employers. There should also be a route through the courts to challenge discrimination where it occurs, however, this should be a last step. There should be a preventative duty on employers to ensure discrimination does not occur in the first place.

What further legislation is required to enable employers to put in place a workplace menopause policy to protect people going through the menopause whilst at work?

The recent Menopause (Support and Services) Private Members' Bill would be a welcome step and effective in raising awareness within the workplace and for all employers to have menopause guidelines in place to be able to support women experiencing symptoms.

 

September 2021

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[1] Wellbeing of Women Survey 2016 cited https://www.local.gov.uk/our-support/workforce-and-hr-support/wellbeing/menopause/menopause-factfile

[2] https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/Menopause%20survey%20report%20FINAL_0.pdf

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/menopause-transition-effects-on-womens-economic-participation