It’s been difficult to put fingers to keyboard on this topic. Plainly because it’s not something I will ever experience. It’s a condition where there’s a complete lack understanding – especially among men. I was one of them.

That’s part of the reason why I want to write about it. I hope this will in some way help to break down barriers.

I’ve also been inspired by the work my colleague Lisa Guscott has undertaken at my firm and further afield to remove the stigma and get people talking about it at home and in the workplace.  

The condition I’m referring to is the menopause. A fact of life that many of our nearest and dearest will experience.

READ MORE: A bill of menopause rights could kick start a whole change of culture

The impact the menopause can have on women in the workplace is huge. Studies have shown that more than a million women with menopausal symptoms are under pressure to quit their job because they’re not getting the support they need. A 2019 study conducted by BUPA estimated that near a million women have already quit their job.

Another 2019 survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that three in five menopausal women between the ages of 45 and 55 were negatively affected at work.  

Of course, many of the women in that age group will be primed to take on senior management roles in their workplace. The negative impact the menopause can therefore have on furthering the careers of women and as a consequence the diversity of boardrooms is massive.

In July 2021, the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee got the ball rolling on an inquiry titled ‘An invisible cohort: Why are workplaces failing women going through menopause?’.

The aim of the inquiry is to address the nature and extent of discrimination faced by women experiencing the menopause in the workplace and what the knock-on effects are. It will also consider, in addition to several other questions, whether legislation should be amended to ensure women are adequately protected in the workplace.

The Equality Act 2010 protects workers against discrimination in the workplace. The Act currently has nine protected characteristics which include age, sex and disability. In addition, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 provides that an employer must, where reasonably practical, ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees at work.

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The menopause isn’t specifically protected under the Equality Act. However, if a woman feels she is being treated less favourably because of her perimenopause (the transitional phase that can occur before the menopause) or menopausal symptoms, this could be discrimination if it is related to one of the existing protected characteristics I mentioned above.

Over the past few years there have been a number of claims in the Employment Tribunal (ET) relating to the menopause. In the case of Donnachie v Telent Technology Services Ltd [2020] the tribunal found that Donnachie’s menopausal symptoms had become so intrusive that she met the definition of disability under the Equality Act.

You’re considered disabled under the Act if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ impact on your normal day-to-day activities. 

The judge in Donnachie’s case said, “I see no reason why, in principle, ‘typical’ menopausal symptoms cannot have the relevant disabling effect on an individual”.

Another case that will have a significant impact on claims relating to the menopause is that of Rooney v Leicester City Council [2021]. Rooney’s claim for disability discrimination failed at first instance; however, her appeal to the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) was successful.

The EAT was cutting in its criticism of the judgment at first instance, stating there was no explanation as to how the ET concluded that symptoms Rooney experienced did not have a significant impact on her day-to-day activities.

In the recent case of Best v Embark on Raw on Law Ltd, an employee succeeded in her claim for age and sex based harassment which was linked to the menopause. Her claim related to comments made by her manager, which included him asking her if she was menopausal.

The above judgments are important for women experiencing the menopause. But lawyers who gave evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee recommended changing legislation so that the menopause is a protected characteristic.

They argued that by making the law clearer it would give women experiencing perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms better protection from discrimination in the workplace.

It’s a no-brainer, in my view.

In the meantime, it would be wise for employers to educate themselves on this important subject so that they don’t face the same fate as those in the above-mentioned claims.

They should implement policies on the menopause and include staff in their development. They should also undertake risk assessments to ensure their protecting the health, safety and welfare of their staff.

Finally, for those employers who want to go that extra mile – get a menopause accreditation and show how committed you are to supporting women in the workplace.

The National Wales:

Jonathan Williams is a solicitor at Watkins and Gunn.

Disclaimer: This does not constitute legal advice. For more information contact Watkins and Gunn at watkinsandgunn.co.uk