There has been a significant rise in the number of employment tribunals that involve the treatment of workers going through the menopause, research has found, as experts call for a better understanding of the issue among employers.
According to data from Menopause Experts Group, there were 16 tribunals that cited the claimant’s menopause last year, up from six in 2019 and just five in 2018.
And the first six months of 2021 has already seen 10 cases that reference menopause, which the study projected could total 20 by the end of the year – four times the number in 2018.
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Commenting on the findings, Yvonne Gallagher, a partner at Harbottle & Lewis, advised that menopause was increasingly referred to alongside other issues in cases where claimants are seeking to contest a dismissal as unfair or discriminatory.
However, while these claims were on the rise, the number was still small even when allowing for claims that have been withdrawn and/or settled outside of the tribunal system.
Jog Hundle, partner at Mills & Reeve, said: “Historically, there have been a number of claims brought for disability discrimination where menopausal-type symptoms have been described, but the employee has not made express reference to the menopause as being causative.”
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This was echoed by Lynda Bailey, co-founder and director of Talking Menopause, who said many menopausal employees find their symptoms are not taken seriously or are even ridiculed at work.
“If colleagues were to make a joke about any other protected characteristics in the workplace there would be consequences,” she said. But the absence of references to the menopause in many companies’ policies around reasonable adjustments, performance and absence management and recruitment and retention suggests firms aren’t taking it seriously.
Employees do not always feel comfortable citing the menopause as a reason for leaving a role, Bailey added, which could contribute to the low number of menopause-related tribunal claims. “If you are suffering from lack of confidence and self-esteem due to your symptoms the last thing you want to do is to go for an ET,” she said.
On top of this, there has been a lack of consistency from tribunals over whether the menopause was an issue of disability or sex discrimination, said Adam Pavey, director of employment and HR at Pannone Corporate.
Gallagher added that despite the real challenges the menopause creates at work, many may be reluctant to argue a disability discrimination case for something that is normal at that stage in their life.
However, as the taboo around the issue continues to lift, Hundle warned that there would without a doubt be an increase in the number of tribunal cases going forward where the impact of the menopause is a major feature. “It is a positive step towards greater inclusion and improved support of work colleagues,” she said.
“We’ve also seen a significant increase in the number of responsible employers who are taking menopause seriously, providing the right awareness, education and support,” said Deborah Garlick, director of Henpicked.
A government consultation on menopause in the workplace might also lead to greater clarity and awareness on the impact that even milder menopausal symptoms may have on performance, said Gallagher, who hopes for greater recognition that the symptoms are typically temporary and do not affect everyone in the same way.
Bailey added that a better understanding of the menopause by all would help avoid future tribunal cases.
"An ET merely demonstrates the issue could not be resolved. If organisations educate their staff, train their managers and offer the right level of support as a result of the consultation then that will be a win,” she said.