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Menopause and The Equality Act 2010

Menopause and The Equality Act 2010

What Do We Actually Mean By Menopause?

Menopause is the natural transition that every woman goes through as her body starts to close down its systems for reproduction.  It is not an illness, although for many women it can certainly leave them feeling quite ill.

For approximately 75% of women symptoms such as hot flushes, insomnia, memory dysfunction and headaches (among others) can have a negative effect on their health and wellbeing, with approximately one in four women suffering from severely debilitating symptoms.

What’s more, every woman will experience menopause in her own, unique way and therefore no two cases will be the same.

Menopause is classed as the point at which a woman has been without a period for 12 months.  Menopause is, therefore, a single day and can only be recognised retrospectively.  The average age for a woman to reach menopause in the UK is currently 51, with most women reaching menopause somewhere between the ages of 45 and 55.

Perimenopause is the period of time leading up to menopause during which the female sex organs are going through the process of shutting down.  This process can begin up to 10 years before menopause and it is during the perimenopause phase that most women begin to experience some symptoms related to menopause.

Some of the less obvious symptoms can include increased anxiety, low mood, a loss of self-confidence, memory disturbances as well as the more common ones such as hot flushes and erratic periods.

What About Menopause and The Equality Act 2010?

Menopause is not, in and of itself, classed as a protected characteristic however due to the nature of menopause, employers could find themselves falling foul of the law through either direct or indirect discrimination on the grounds of age, gender or even disability.

Whilst menopause is not a disability, some women experience symptoms which, by definition, would be classified as such.  In England and Wales, the law states that a condition which causes a physical or mental impairment that has a long term and substantial adverse effect on an individual’s ability to carry out their day to day tasks is classified as a disability.

Not all women will experience symptoms that meet the criteria to be classified as a disability and therefore it should not be automatically assumed that women going through menopause will be protected under the Equality Act and each case should be judged on its own merits.

That said, employers should be following best practice to ensure that they do not inadvertently disadvantage an employee going through menopause.

What Does Best Practice Look Like?

Accordingly to menopause organisation Menopause in the Workplace best practice includes:

  • Creating an organisational culture where menopause is spoken about openly and without taboo.
  • Educating all employees and managers to be more aware of what menopause is and to understand the implications of menopause within the working environment.
  • To ensure menopause is clearly articulated through well publicised policy and guidance and is readily accessible to both managers and colleagues.
  • To encourage meaningful conversations between line managers and employees through education and training to help all parties feel confident speaking openly about symptoms. 
  • Making Occupational Health accessible to all parties.
  • Making reasonable adjustments and providing support on an individual case by case basis.
  • Considering menopause symptoms when making business decision related to working environment.
  • Ensuring that any formal processes are approached with the assumption that the symptoms fall into the criteria for disability and are therefore dealt with in a fair and reasonable manner.

With the average cost of an employment tribunal in the region of £8.5k, before any potential awards should the case be won in favour of the claimant, it makes good sense for employers to adhere to best practice and avoid both the financial and inevitable emotional stress caused by litigation.

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