A lawyer is warning employers to put menopause support in place in for staff or risk being brought to tribunal.
The caution came despite government pushing back against proposals to make menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act along with other recommendations made in the Woman and Equalities Select Committee’s Menopause at Work report.
However Matt Jenkin, employment partner at corporate law firm Moorcrofts, told Health & Protection that case law was driving much of the agenda in this area without government interventions.
Jenkin highlighted that in his experience the clear direction of travel from the Employment Tribunal was that an employee with menopause conditions was likely to satisfy the definition for “disability” for the purposes of a discrimination claim.
“As such, the absence of menopause being an expressly stated protected characteristic is unlikely to prevent such claims proceeding,” Jenkin continued.
“I think we are likely to see this as a growth area for claims which is why employers need to treat this issue seriously and put appropriate support in place.”
‘An opportunity missed’
Earlier this week committee chairwoman Caroline Nokes MP told Health & Protection the rejection of making menopause a protected characteristic was “very disappointing”.
The Conservative government’s rejection of a proposal for menopause leave stirred up a mixed response from industry experts.
Steve Herbert, wellbeing and benefits director at Partners&, described it as “an opportunity missed – or at least delayed – by the government”.
“In part, I suspect this reflects a desire not to add to the theoretically vast number of employment law changes that could arise from the so-called bonfire of EU-derived employment laws later this year,” he added.
Professor Sneh Khemka, CEO of Simplyhealth, agreed.
“We are disappointed with this decision and think it is a missed opportunity,” Khemka continued.
“Findings from a survey we conducted last year found women going through menopause admitted to hiding symptoms such as loss of concentration (40%), crumbling anxiety (39%) and debilitating hot flushes (35%) at work.
“The survey also revealed that three in 10 adults have lied to an employer about why they’ve needed time off work when suffering from a women’s health issue.
“With only one in 10 female workers feeling comfortable enough to approach their manager for time off work for menopause symptoms, versus 40% asking for permission to visit a dentist or 27% for an optician appointment.”
But Kathy Abernethy, chief nursing officer and director of Menopause services at Peppy, argued the solution does not lie with menopause leave.
“While we welcome this focus on menopause as a workplace issue: approval of sick leave just isn’t the answer here,” Abernethy said.
“While it’s true many individuals do take time off work due to menopausal symptoms, what colleagues really need is easy access to information and appropriate treatment to effectively manage those symptoms.”
But whichever approach employers favour, Dr Rebecca Brady, medical director and practising GP at HCML, points out effective menopause policies must be tailored to the needs of staff.
“To be effective, workplace menopause policies must be tailored to the individual company and the needs of its employee, looking at a biopsychosocial approach to this stage in life, along with nutrition, physical and mental health support including nominating specific menopause champions in the workplace who reinforce the company policies on a regular basis and keep listening.
“Supporting menopause in the workplace must go wider than just having a conversation about it, but taking action can keep women thriving in the workplace.”