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Currently there is no absolute legal protection but menopause symptoms might fit into frameworks already in existence. There are two obvious strands being 1. Equality and 2. Health and safety at work. Both are laws laid down by our government.

Discrimination

Under the Equality Act, there are nine protected characteristics:

Age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

The obvious areas in this Act are the protected characteristics of sex and age. No person should be treated less favourably because of menopausal symptoms. Detrimental treatment due to the menopause could be classified as direct discrimination (e.g. performance review, being marked down, receiving unwanted comments or criticism, banter that goes too far, harassment.)

Sex Discrimination

An employee who suffers any form of discrimination in relation to the menopause may have a direct or indirect sex discrimination claim.

Age Discrimination

The menopause is a natural part of ageing and usually occurs between the age of 45 and 55.  The average age of the menopause in the UK is 51.  Due to the direct correlation of the menopause with age, any less favourable treatment could amount to a direct or indirect age discrimination claim.

Disability

Menopause is not per se disability discrimination, however an employee suffering severe symptoms of the menopause may be classed as disabled (consideration will be given to whether the condition is substantial and long term, and has an adverse effect on the ability to carry out day-to-day activities).  Where the test of disability is satisfied, employers would be under a duty to make reasonable adjustments.  Whether someone is disabled will be a question of fact in each case.  However 80% of women (and those who identify as women) suffer significant symptoms of menopause, so a great many of them are likely to be covered.

Disability must be proved as having physical or mental impairment. Women experiencing menopause may not identify their symptoms as a disability, but symptoms could tick certain boxes of disability. Once it has been established that the employee is disabled, they have access to legislation and are protected from discrimination.

The employer must make reasonable adjustments in the workplace. Adjustments could be physical, (e.g. ventilation, toilet access, uniforms or clothing) and also wider duty adjustments like taking extra breaks, flexible hours or working from home.

As menopause sufferers, the main things women want are simply adjustments. These adjustments should not be a short-term solution, but again not necessarily a permanent one. If introducing reasonable adjustments, the employer needs to know about the employee’s condition and that they are struggling in the workplace. Employees do not have to disclose a full medical history, but it makes sense for both them and the employer to encourage honesty and understanding. This would protect both parties legally and avoid possible legal action owing to breach of the Disability Act.

Health and Safety

At work, menopause symptoms might fit into existing frameworks for health and safety and equality at work.

No person should be treated less favourably because of menopausal symptoms linked to their age or sex. The menopause is a natural part of ageing and usually occurs between the age of 45 and 55.  The average age of the menopause in the UK is 51.

An employee suffering severe symptoms of the menopause may be classed as disabled (consideration will be given to whether the condition is substantial and long term, and has an adverse effect on the ability to carry out day-to-day activities).  Employers should be open to making reasonable adjustments.

Making use of existing occupational health and staff support services should be encouraged and the more that menopause is talked about and becomes less taboo the greater the ability for managers and staff to discuss flexible working, changes to work environments or other adjustments that may assist those experiencing symptoms.

Reasonable adjustments in the workplace may include: physical adjustments (e.g. ventilation, toilet access, uniforms or clothing) and also wider duty adjustments like taking extra breaks, flexible hours or working from home.

As menopause sufferers, the main things women want are simply adjustments. These adjustments should not be a short-term solution, but again not necessarily a permanent one. If introducing reasonable adjustments, the employer needs to know about the employee’s condition and that they are struggling in the workplace. Employees do not have to disclose a full medical history, but it makes sense for both them and the employer to encourage honesty and understanding.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA) requires employers to manage health and safety in their business. The Act is mainly focussed on physical conditions but does cover menopause conditions such as loss of concentration, tiredness and fatigue, etc.

Employers conduct risk assessments where health and safety concerns are identified. It is recommended that they embrace a menopause friendly culture, bearing in mind particular issues for female employees. Employers are encouraged to work with the Occupational Health Service to identify what barriers exist and to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace.