Written evidence from Staffordshire University [MEW0050]

 

 

Executive summary

 

General: It is pleasing to see the Government has examined the impact of the Menopause and workplace in this way, but it is necessary that the discussed possibilities are given the force of law otherwise there is a danger that the current position will remain unchanged. The current position is highly unsatisfactory with anecdotal evidence suggesting that women experience considerable discrimination in the workplace during this period in their lives. The impact on wider society is manifest in a number of ways; one is damage to the capacity of the skilled workforce, as women sometimes feel there is no alternative but to leave the workplace. This can exacerbate a skills deficit and impact on the economic health of a business or sector. For example, the British Medical Association reported a most worrying picture, that not only were those undergoing the menopause disadvantaged, they were leaving the medical profession with a consequential impact on the availability of healthcare.[1] There is also the wider impact on the health and well-being both of the women themselves and their families.     

 

 

 

Full response

i)The Government should amend the Equality Act 2010 so that menopause is added as a separate protected characteristic. Otherwise, menopause is trivialised as less significant than an individual’s other characteristics, this should be avoided. A menopausal woman is currently disadvantaged in the bringing of litigation under the Equality Act 2010, this should be remedied by amending the Equality Act to add menopause as a protected characteristic. There is an increase in women taking employers to court citing the menopause as proof of unfair dismissal and discrimination. Currently women must proceed on the basis of sex or age discrimination, or on the basis of the symptoms of menopause amounting to a disability. The lack of consistency from tribunal decisions as to whether menopause is an issue of disability or sex discrimination is cause for concern. In Miss J Donnachie v Telent Technology Services Ltd: 1300005/2020 a claimant having 12 hot flushes a day and being woken eight times every night by sweats was ruled disabled. Whereas in Ms M Rooney v Leicester City Council: 2600242/2019 and 2600243/2019 the judge dismissed the employees’ claim to be ruled disabled on account of her symptoms.

ii) The health of women in the workforce must be better catered for. An example of this is the massive impact of the perimenopause and menopause on the health of women. This response would recommend that employers be obliged to introduce specific menopause policies in the workplace in order to enhance the working life of women and avoid challenges under the Equality Act 2010. Such a menopause policy should include provision for menopause leave, and in work adjustments, it would also require training for all employees, the appointment of a menopause champion and the introduction of specific menopause policies. The best way to provide that support to employees is undoubtedly through education, awareness, and openness. 

Talking about menopause and learning about the problems that are involved will enable the dissemination of information which will, consequently, lead to a better educated and more knowledgeable work environment. It is hardly conceivable today that this unique transformative stage of an employee’s life nearly always lacks a specific workplace policy just as it is hard to conceive that, in the relatively recent past, workplaces lacked a specific maternity policy. 

Moreover, the whole of the workforce requires general training on the topic, if this last taboo is to be jettisoned to the history books. Such training could produce a number of beneficial changes including that women will know better know how to help themselves and will be less embarrassed to involve their co-workers about the issues involved. Equally, human resource departments and line managers will incorporate strategies to improve the working environment that can help menopausal women in the workplace. Workshops and courses around menopause can provide general and specialised direction to help people understand the impact of menopause symptoms and empower everyone to feel able to talk about it after the sessions are over. These developments would ensure that the duties under the common law[2] and statute[3] were discharged.

Colloquial evidence on the matter is appalling, a recent article in the Guardian noted that menopausal women are too often represented as figures of fun, to be excoriated or mocked. “You wouldn’t be able to discriminate against black or gay people in that way and use their status and who they are as an insult. But it is seen as OK when we’re talking about women of a certain age.”[4] One first person account in that article is particularly chilling when a women explains that she did not realise that her difficulties at work were menopause related as she had suffered from depression in the past, she blamed that. She described how she resigned, as in her own words “I couldn’t do it any more,” “I’d been having recurrent thoughts of ending my life. Such a first person account acutely demonstrates the need for the education and changes detailed above.

 

Conclusion

 

Businesses can factor in the needs of those going through the menopause by embedding the range of solutions discussed above including specific workplace menopause policies, menopause leave and training.

 

The Government should initiate statutory reforms to ensure that those going through the menopause are protected and have resource to some powers of enforcement if measures laid down in statute and guidance are not implemented. As a final point, this response suggests that any statutory or non-statutory changes are drafted so that those who receive a diagnosis of menopause or perimenopause are protected; this will ensure protection for those who experience the effects of these conditions but who do not necessarily identify as women.[5]

 

September 2021


[1] British Medical Association Challenging the Culture on Menopause for Working Doctors https//www.bma.org accessed on 31st August 2021.

[2] Common law duty originating in Wilson & Clyde’s Coal v English to ensure competent staff, proper system of work including effective supervision and a safe place of work.

[3] Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 where the current regime potentially gives rise to sex discrimination as menopause is treated less seriously than an ongoing health problem in a man. The employer has an obligation to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety, and welfare of all of the employees (s. 2(1)). Whilst this is a general duty, s. 2(2) extends this in the following ways:1.the provision and maintenance of safe plant and systems of work that are safe and without risk to health; 2.arrangements for ensuring the safe use, handling, storage, and transport of articles and substances; 3.providing the necessary information, training, and supervision to ensure the health and safety of the employees; 4.in places of work under the control of the employer, maintaining the workplace to a standard that is safe and without risks to health, and maintaining the entrances and exits to the workplace; 5.providing the facilities for a safe working environment for their employees, and maintaining these. The employer has an obligation to adhere to the above duties, with the proviso that this obligation extends to what is ‘reasonably practicable’ for the employer. Consequently, where to exercise the duty would not be reasonably practicable, the employer is permitted to make this defence (albeit that the burden of proof of it not being reasonable rests with them).

[4] The Guardian 17th of August 2021 “My bosses were happy to destroy me. The women forced out of work by the menopause”

[5] It is now recognised that not every individual is cis-gendered, that is denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex. Apart from those who may be transgender and in the process of transitioning there are also those who identify as non-binary, that is someone whose gender identity does not sit comfortably with the term man or woman. Not withstanding these complications if certain diagnostic criteria are present the individual can suffer from the debilitating symptoms of the menopause.