Menopause at work: employment law

menopause, work, law, symptoms

Menopause and employment law – so you know your legal rights?

With more and more women working until later in life and the state retirement age increasing, it stands to reason that a large proportion of women will be working through their menopause and beyond.

menopause, work, law, symptomsIn fact, around one in three of the UK workforce is over 50. And with an alarming number of these considering leaving work because they couldn’t cope with menopause symptoms, it’s important for employers to be aware of this issue and for women to feel they can have open conversations with their line manager.

According to Faculty of Occupational Medicine, It has been noted that the management of gender-specific health issues other than pregnancy are rarely discussed in the workplace. It’s worth remembering that maternity policies haven’t always been the norm but nowadays no one would question the value of supporting pregnant women or question their ability to do a good job.

Thankfully, menopause is starting to be seen in the same light. More organisations are introducing menopause in the workplace policies and practices, and for even those who don’t have these yet, menopause is increasingly becoming accepted as an occupational health related issue. So even without a specific menopause policy, you can still ask for help and support from your employer while you come to terms with any symptoms.

It can often be a case of employers making a few small and fairly simple changes to offer support to women and to help them perform to the best of their abilities. These could include incorporating menopause into their policies, talking about it openly, training and education and some small tweaks in their workplace that would make the world of difference.

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Conversations with your employer and line manager

It’s worth checking if your employer has a menopause policy or other policies in place that could support you. You might find these in your employee handbook or intranet. If so, consider what provision it makes that’s relevant to your specific symptoms.

At first glance, these policies may appear to hinder rather than help you, for example, a strict dress code, absence management rules or capability processes. However, some adjustments to these may be reasonable to help manage your symptoms and indeed your employer may have a legal responsibility to do this in order to avoid discrimination linked to age, sex or even disability. There are ways of using these policies to your advantage, for example, by suggesting a referral to Occupational Health to ensure both you and your employer are getting appropriate support.

Your employer may also have a flexible working policy and in any event, you have a statutory right to formally request flexible working if you’ve been employed for at least 26 weeks.

Sadly, not every employer will be understanding and supportive. If this is the case, consider whether it’s appropriate to raise a formal grievance – certainly do this if you feel you are being discriminated against, you are dismissed or otherwise your employment contract is breached (express or implied terms).

Employment law

Menopause is covered under the Equality Act 2010. The ‘protected characteristics’ include age, sex and even disability discrimination. It’s also covered under the Health and Safety Act 1974.

You may need to consider bringing a claim in the Employment Tribunal if the treatment towards you breaches employment law. Please take legal advice at an early stage as strict time limits apply. There have been employment tribunals won on the grounds of a woman’s menopause.

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If the support you need is a permanent change to your hours, work pattern or place of work, raise a formal flexible working request and ensure this is dealt with in accordance with the ACAS Code.

Supporting women with menopausal symptoms is something all good employers should consider, so don’t be afraid to raise the issue if you feel your performance in the workplace is suffering.

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