Written evidence from Trade Union Congress (TUC) [MEW0072]

 

Introduction

The TUC is the voice of Britain at work. We represent more than 5.5 million working people in 48 unions across the economy. More than half of trade union members in the UK are women.[1] We campaign for more and better jobs and a better working life for everyone, and we support trade unions to grow and thrive.

Menopause is a key workplace issue. It is an equality issue as well as a health and safety issue and will impact nearly all women at some point in their lives. This is why unions have and continue to lead calls for workplace policies to support women going through menopause and raise awareness of menopause as a workplace issue. We welcome the opportunity to respond to this consultation.

Menopause is the ceasing of menstruation and is usually identified as having occurred when menstruation has stopped for 12 months or more. Menopause will typically occur between the ages of 45 and 55. The average age for a woman in the UK to experience menopause is 51 years of age[2]. However, menopause can be experienced much younger, 1 in 100 women in the UK experiencing menopause before the age of 40.[3] Similarly, the perimenopause (meaning ‘around menopause’ and refers to the time during which the body makes the natural transition to menopause)[4] can occur years before periods cease and menopausal symptoms can last for years after menstruation has stopped. It is also important to note that trans, intersex and non-binary people can also experience menopause and/or menopausal symptoms.

Common symptoms include:

However, there a many more symptoms and every experience of menopause will be different.

Menopause is a natural part of the ageing process and is something that nearly all women will experience. Given that women make up roughly 51 per cent of the population, and that 1 in 3 women in the UK are estimated to be going through or have reached menopause, it is shocking that there is still so much stigma, discrimination, and lack of awareness regarding the menopause. This reflects the structural sexism and ageism that is prevalent across our society.

Women of menopausal age (45-54) make up 11 percent of all people in employment and 23 per cent of all women in employment, which is 3.5 million women.[5] Research suggests that the extent and impact of discrimination, bad practice, and general lack of awareness regarding menopause is forcing women out of the workforce. BUPA research estimates nearly 1 million women have been forced out of the labour market due to menopausal symptoms[6], or perhaps more accurately due to the lack of workplace support for them as they try to manage their symptoms and cope with a natural but often difficult process.

All workplaces need to adopt workplace policies that support women and others who experience menopause. In doing so it will help challenge the stigma surrounding menopause and other conditions that affect women, as well as supporting experienced, skilled, talented, hard-working women to remain in the labour market.

 

Recommendations

Employers

There are several steps employers should take to support menopausal women and those with menopausal symptoms:

-         Appropriate information and support for all workers experiencing menopause and menopausal symptoms.

-         Tackling the stigma and taboo around menopause

-         Risk assessments taking into account the specific needs of the individual

-         Adjustments to working conditions proactively put in place

-         Training and awareness raising for all staff

-         A confidential, named point of contact for support and advice for women to speak to regarding any issues that arise due in regards menopause.

-         Encourage workers to seek advice, guidance and representation from their union representative.

Government

There is currently no legislation that requires employers to have a menopause workplace policy or protect workers experiencing menopausal symptoms. There is also insufficient legal guidance for workers or employers regarding the menopause.

We recommend that government:

-         introducing a legal duty on employers to consider which flexible working arrangements are available in a role and publish these in job advertisements, with the new postholder having a day one right to take up the flexible working arrangements that have been advertised. If an employer does not think that any flexible working arrangements are possible, they should be required to set out the exceptional circumstances that justify this decision.  

-         Introducing a day one right to request flexible working for all workers, with the criteria for rejection mirroring the exceptional circumstances set out above. Workers should have a right to appeal and no restrictions on the number of flexible working requests made.  

Menopause in the workplace – extent, impact and discrimination

Key findings included:

-         76% of respondents who had either gone through or were going through the menopause said that they had found symptoms of the menopause either moderately or extremely problematic at work.

-         Overall, 20% of respondents said that they had considered leaving because they found it difficult to deal with the menopause at work; this increased to 44% of respondents who found their symptoms extremely problematic.

-         44% of respondents who had taken sickness absence due to the menopause had not told their manager the real reason for their absence; only 9% who had told their manager the real reason said that their absence had been recorded accurately.

-         35% of respondents had taken annual leave or rest days to take time off because of their symptoms.

Common issues include:

-         Lack of awareness and training, particularly if the line manager or colleague is male, and particularly if they are a younger male.

-         The issue being dismissed as a ‘women’s issue’.

-         Feeling embarrassed to raise or worrying that they will not be taken seriously.

-         Colleagues and managers treating symptoms as a ‘joke’.

-         Being worried about or having experience of disciplinary action or negative judgements about performance at work.

-         Lack of appropriate gender sensitive risk assessments

-         Poor ventilation and air quality

-         Inadequate access to drinking water

-         Inadequate or non-existent toilet/washing facilities

-         Lack of control of temperature/light

-         Lack of appropriate uniforms or personal protective equipment (PPE)

-         Inflexible working time rules/break times

-         Inflexible policies which penalise women because of their symptoms, particularly sickness and absence policies

-         Excessive workloads

-         Workplace stress

-         Insecure employment (e.g. fixed-term, casual or zero-hour contracts)

Intersecting characteristics and the menopause

 

What should employers do to support workers going through the menopause and address workplace discrimination related to menopause?

Menopause is a key workplace issue. It will affect nearly all women at some point in their lives and is an equality as well as a health and safety issue. This is why unions have and continue to lead calls for workplace policies to support women going through menopause and raise awareness of menopause as a workplace issue.

Legal responsibilities

-         Eliminating unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct prohibited by the Act.

-         Advancing equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.

-         Fostering good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.

Having due regard for advancing equality involves:

-         Removing or minimising disadvantages suffered by people due to their protected characteristics.

-         Taking steps to meet the needs of people from protected groups where these are different from the needs of other people.

-         Encouraging people from protected groups to participate in public life or in other activities where their participation is disproportionately low.

For public sector employers this means looking at existing policies and policies that they are developing and the impact they may have on menopausal women, and ensuring they are tackling the discrimination they face on the grounds of menopause.

Risk Assessments

Reasonable adjustments

Sickness and absence

-         Around half of respondents reported having time off work due to menopausal or perimenopausal symptoms with 19% being absent for more than 8 weeks.

-         In total, 37% of women had been provided with a sickness certificate from their doctor; of these, 52% listed anxiety/ stress as the cause, with only 7% stating menopause as a reason for sickness leave.

-         As a result of their menopausal and perimenopausal symptoms, 31% of women had thought about reducing their working hours and 32% had thought about leaving their job.

Model workplace Policies

-         Policy statement

-         Aims and objectives

-         Legislative compliance

-         Key principles

-         Definition

-         Symptoms

-         Who is affected

-         Workplace factors

-         Access to workplace adjustments and support

-         Key actions and adjustments

-         Self-help measures

-         Signposting and support

Key principles should include employer commitments to:

-         Appropriate information and support for all workers experiencing menopause and menopausal symptoms.

-         Tackling the stigma and taboo around menopause

-         Risk assessments taking into account the specific needs of the individual

-         Adjustments to working conditions proactively put in place

-         Training and awareness raising for all staff

-         A confidential named point of contact for support and advice for women to speak to regarding any issues that arise due to menopause.

-         Encourage employees to seek advice, guidance and representation from their union representative.

 

Flexible working

Training

-         How menopause can impact on workers.

-         The importance of breaking down stigmas and taboos around menopause.

-         What support is available from employers.

-         Signposting external support services.

-         What support should be given by line managers and practical steps they need to take such as risk assessments, reviewing reasonable adjustment requests, sickness management and accessing occupational health support.

-         How to respond compassionately and confidentially to any disclosure of menopausal symptoms and the impact that is having on an employee.

What the government can do to ensure anyone experiencing menopause is protected from discrimination and supported in the workplace

There is currently no legislation that requires employers to have a menopause workplace policy or protect workers experiencing menopausal symptoms. There is also insufficient legal guidance for workers or employers regarding the menopause.

We recommend that government:

Appendix A: Usdaw 2018 membership survey – Menopause and the workplace

Management Attitude

Other Issues Our Members Report

Supporting members in the workplace

Negative quotes

‘I just think that my place of work would have no empathy because it's not a "real illness"’

‘Younger colleagues think it is funny.’

 

‘Still keeping it hidden for fear of being made redundant’

 

‘I don’t think it’s taken seriously at work’

 

‘Very taboo subject and there's such a bad stigma around "ooohh she's having ‘womens’ problems.”’

 

‘Lack of confidence and depression were symptoms I did not expect, the menopause triggered mental illness for me. It was trying to cope in silence that did it.’

 

‘People think it’s a butt of jokes - it’s not it’s very tiring.’

 

‘None of my colleagues going through this would feel comfortable talking to HR or their Line manager as they feel there is a lack of understanding and they would be viewed as being 'old'’

 

‘Loss of confidence and self-esteem can effect the way you perform and workplace relationships. Waking up frequently in the night with sweats make you tired for work. How do you explain these issues to a male manager/team leader?’

 

‘The decline of strength as you age and go through menopause should be considered in the physical aspects of supermarket work, bearing in mind the possibility of osteoporosis developing.’

 

‘Yes, that the perimenopause (which I am currently in) can be just as disruptive and can last up to around 10 years before a medical ‘menopause’ is confirmed.’

 

‘It's a tough time in a woman's life from a psychological perspective. So often we are judged on appearance and the menopause can make you feel 'past it',  not just on a personal level but professionally as well. Maybe highlighting positive role models? A help pack of useful information.’

 

‘I was a manager and I made the decision to step down due to workloads and my mood which could have affected some of my decisions so I am a general assistant.’

 

‘I work with young people mainly male in their twenties. They all think it’s funny if I get hot sweats, but I have to stand on the till and serve customers. And be polite !!’

 

‘I was off sick for four months with stress then gave up my managers position to return to work as a sales assistant for the same company but in a different store.’

 

‘I have had to give up my lecturing position due to the severe symptoms of menopause. I now work in a shop but irregular shift patterns make it more difficult for me to try to create a regular sleep pattern’

‘Had to get to the toilet quickly twice in a short time and a male team leader came looking for me to see why I was off shop floor and second time stood outside toilet looking at his watch! This just caused more anxiety.’

 

‘Manager failed to accept that the menopause symptoms as medical.’

 

‘People see you having hot flashes and laugh about it, it can be very embarrassing.’

 

‘I have actually passed out a few times because i was getting very hot and because i stand up for like 8 hours, but i couldn't go home because i wouldn't of been paid as i don't think that it's classed as an illness.’

 

Positive quotes

‘When I’m having an emotional period they know to leave me be they just check in now and again until I’m me.’

 

‘My management team is very supportive and allow me to take time out of my day on the few occasions I have need to sit quietly and clear my head it just find somewhere cool and quiet to sit until I feel well enough to return back to work.’

 

‘My manager knows my health problems and arranged less work hours when I have needed it.’

 

 

September 2021


[1] BEIS, (2021), Trade Union Statistics, available at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/trade-union-statistics

[2] NHS, Overview: Menopause, available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/menopause/

[3] NHS, Overview: Menopause, available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/menopause/

[4] BUPA, Menopause, available at https://www.bupa.co.uk/health-information/womens-health/menopause

[5] Labour Force Survey, Q2 2021

[6] Burden, L. Bloomberg Equality, (2021), ‘Many Women Exit Workforce for a Little Talked About Reason’,  available at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-06-18/women-are-leaving-the-workforce-for-a-little-talked-about-reason

[7] Labour Force Survey, Q2 2021

[8] Local Government Association, Menopause Factfile, available at https://local.gov.uk/our-support/workforce-and-hr-support/wellbeing/menopause/menopause-factfile

[9] NHS, Overview: Menopause, available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/menopause/

[10] Ibid

[11] Endometriosis UK, available at https://www.endometriosis-uk.org/information

[12] NHS, Overview: Infertility, available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/infertility/

[13] Hunt, A, (2019), Woman and Home, ‘The Real Cost of Menopause Misdiagnosis: How Women are Suffering Due to a Lack of Understanding’, available at https://www.womanandhome.com/health-and-wellbeing/menopause-diagnosis-delay-337072/

[14] Burden, L. Bloomberg Equality, (2021), ‘Many Women Exit Workforce for a Little Talked About Reason’,  available at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-06-18/women-are-leaving-the-workforce-for-a-little-talked-about-reason

[15] Government Equalities Office (2017) ‘The effects of menopause transition on women’s economic participation in the UK’, available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/menopause-transition-effects-on-womens-economic-participation

[16] Wales TUC, (2017), Menopause: A Workplace Issue, available at https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/Menopause%20survey%20report%20FINAL_0.pdf

[17] www.polfed.org and search ‘menopause survey’

[18] Wales TUC, (2017), Menopause: A Workplace Issue, available at https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/Menopause%20survey%20report%20FINAL_0.pdf

 

[19] Newson Health and Wellbeing Centre, https://www.newsonhealth.co.uk/

[20] HM Government, Office for Disability Issues, Equality Act Guidance, available at  https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/570382/Equality_Act_2010-disability_definition.pdf

[21] EHRC, Public Sector Equality Duty, available at https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/advice-and-guidance/public-sector-equality-duty

[22] Newson Health and Wellbeing Centre, https://www.newsonhealth.co.uk/

[23] TUC, Disability and Work, available at https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/extras/disabilityandwork.pdf

[24] Wales TUC, (2017), Menopause: A Workplace Issue, available at https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/Menopause%20survey%20report%20FINAL_0.pdf

[25] Newson Health and Wellbeing Centre, https://www.newsonhealth.co.uk/