MPs launch inquiry into lack of support for menopausal women at work

Experts welcome the investigation but suggest how firms could do more now to support employees

Businesses are being asked to consider how they approach menopause in the workplace after a parliamentary inquiry into the issue was launched last Friday (23 July).

The Women and Equalities Committee plan to redress gender equality including laws that protect people going through the menopause against discrimination.

The inquiry will scrutinise legislation and workplace practices to ask if enough is being done to address the issue.

Menopause discrimination is covered by the Equality Act 2010 – under the protected characteristics of age, sex and disability discrimination; and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which extends to the working conditions when experiencing menopausal symptoms.

But, there have been calls for further legislation to require employers to have a workplace menopause policy to protect people going through it from discrimination while at work.

In a 2019 CIPD survey, of the 1,409 women experiencing menopausal symptoms, three out of five (59 per cent) of the respondents – aged between 45 and 55 – said it had a negative impact on them at work.

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Caroline Nokes, MP for Romsey and Southampton North and chair of the committee, cited the data in the inquiry’s announcement and said menopause is ignored in legislation, despite “hundreds of thousands of women in the UK” currently going through it.

"It is time to uncover and address this huge issue, which has been left near-invisible for far too long,” she said, adding that “excluding menopausal women from the workplace is detrimental to our economy, our society and our place on the world stage”.

Another survey from 2019, conducted by BUPA, found that almost 900,000 women in the UK left their jobs over an undefined period of time because of menopausal symptoms.

However, the proportion of employers offering support for the menopause has more than doubled since 2019, according to Claire McCartney, senior resourcing and inclusion adviser at the CIPD.

“If women aren’t supported, employers can lose talent and their gender pay gap can be impacted,” she said, suggesting that employers need to treat menopause like any other health condition.

“Line managers should be trained and supported to have open and supportive conversations, and be working closely with HR to implement simple adjustments which can make a big difference to those experiencing the menopause transition,” she explained.

Lynda Bailey, co-founder and director at Talking Menopause, suggested the inquiry was happening now because the current generation experiencing menopause in the workplace was the same generation that spoke about equality, pregnancy, and part-time working.

“Menopause is the final hurdle”, she said. “We have got this far and are not prepared to lose it on the final throw of the hormone dice.” 

She recommended firms not advocate for a separate menopause policy, but audit existing policies and ensure menopause is visible within them.

“The support organisations offer to employees for other health conditions such as absence and performance management, [and] workplace adjustments more than covers menopause support – let’s normalise it,” she added. 

Bailey also said that government intervention was the only way to get employees to talk about menopause: “If you make it voluntary then the employees who turn up to the menopause sessions are female, going through menopause. [But] menopause is everyone’s business.”

Renée Clarke, director of Work Well Hub, said that, inquiry or not, organisations should already be addressing the issue.

“Both peri menopausal and menopausal symptoms drastically affect the way individuals function,” she explained. “Everyone is different [...], for some it may be underperformance due to lack of sleep, for others it could be increased absence due to headaches or musculoskeletal issues.”

She suggested that, alongside a supportive menopause policy, understanding the individual needs of employees and treating each case separately is key to ensuring discrimination around the menopause at work is eliminated.

Deborah Garlick, director at Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace, echoed Clarke’s views adding that “we’re an ageing population, more women of menopause age are in work than ever before, far too many struggling through the menopause or even giving up work or career ambitions”.

“We couldn’t imagine not having maternity policies today, now it’s time for menopause policies – backed up with awareness and education campaigns, and support,” she said.

Emma Clark, employment partner at Keystone Law, said clear guidance from the government would help minimise the legal and reputational risk for employers of women successfully suing for discrimination because of the menopause.

“Rather than relying on the government to mandate the future on this topic, it is clear that employers can voluntarily make a great deal of progress on this key issue”, she said.

Clark suggested firms consider voluntary menopause policies and highlighted they can educate staff as part of training programmes and mention the menopause in diversity and equality sessions.

She did warn that employers should also ensure sickness absence tracking systems record time off for menopause-related symptoms separately as such absence could be disability-related and therefore, should not impact performance management processes or selection for redundancy.