Menopause is becoming more frequently talked about in the workplace, and even more so with celebrities sharing their stories, such as Davina McCall in her Channel 4 documentary “Sex, Myths and the Menopause”. World Menopause Day is held every year on 18 October and was introduced by the International Menopause Society to raise awareness and to support options to improve health and well-being for women in mid-life and beyond. But what is menopause?
Menopause is the end of a woman’s reproductive capability due to lower hormone levels and usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, although it can happen earlier for various reasons. Menopause can have a big impact on a woman’s life, including their relationships and work. Typical symptoms are anxiety, mood swings, brain fog, hot flushes and irregular periods, all of which can last for years!
The theme for World Menopause Day 2022 is cognition and mood, reflecting a key symptom often referred to as “menopause brain fog”. This includes difficulty remembering words and numbers, trouble concentrating, difficulty switching between tasks, forgetting the reason for doing something and forgetting appointments and events. Before an employer rushes down the capability route where an employee is not performing to their usual standard, consideration should be given as to whether there is a reason that the employee may be acting in a certain way. Many employees suffer in silence due to the stigma attaching to menopause, but by opening up the discussion and raising awareness in the workplace, employers will be better placed to retain key employees.
Research has revealed that 1 in 10 women have left the workplace because of symptoms of the menopause – this equates to around 333,000 women in the UK alone. These statistics do not include women who have reduced their hours, or not applied for a promotion.
Whilst the menopause is not a specific condition protected under the Equality Act 2017, an employer is still exposed to possible discrimination claims (i.e. age, disability, sex) where an employee is treated less favourably because of their menopause symptoms and they can show that this is related to a protected characteristic. Employers should also be mindful of their obligations under the relevant health and safety legislation which require them, where reasonably practicable, to ensure everyone’s health, safety and welfare at work.
As such, employers should make sure they have the steps, procedures and support in place to help employees affected by the menopause. This may include having regular conversations with employees and listening to their concerns to resolve any issues early on – but remember, discussions with individuals affected by the menopause should be confidential and private medical information treated appropriately.
ACAS has offered guidance for employers when dealing with menopause in the workplace – https://www.acas.org.uk/menopause-at-work/talking-with-staff-about-the-menopause which is equally helpful for the Isle of Man.