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As interest in health and well being at work increases and more women remain in the workforce in their middle and later years, attention has at last focused on an issue which has until now been fairly hidden – the menopause.
News came earlier this year that Nottinghamshire police force had published a menopause manager’s guide to help women going through the menopause after concerns that some were leaving the force as a result of their symptoms. It drew a lot of comment.
Discussion will no doubt be re-energised following an Employment Tribunal’s recent ruling that a Scottish Court and Tribunal Service employee was discriminated against because of her menopause. Mandy Davies was dismissed from her job last year for gross misconduct. She took the case to tribunal claiming she was discriminated against on the grounds of disability due to her menopause. The Judge ruled that Mandy, who suffered severe symptoms of the menopause, had been unfairly dismissed and awarded her £19,000, stating that she should get her job back.
This month the TUC in Wales published a menopause toolkit for trade unionists. It aims to help reps in recognising and addressing the workplace issues that can worsen women’s symptoms.
It says that around one in every three women has either experienced or is currently going through the menopause with around 80% experiencing noticeable symptoms. Nearly half will find their symptoms hard to deal with.
The toolkit says: “Employers, even in workplaces dominated by women workers, have been slow to recognise the menopause as an issue, and that those going through the menopause might need additional consideration or adjustments. In many cases the menopause is still not recognised as a workplace issue by managers. Consequently, many women feel they have to hide their symptoms or only talk about them in a humorous way. This means many are unable to access the adjustments they need. In some cases women report feeling forced to leave the workforce altogether due to a lack of support.”
The menopause usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. In the UK, the average age is 51, but it can happen much earlier. Symptoms include hot flushes and palpitations, night sweats, insomnia and sleep disturbances, fatigue, poor concentration, headaches and depression. Many of these are linked. Many women also report that the menopause seems to make existing health conditions worse, triggering or coinciding with a flare up of symptoms. Some women report that the menopause seems to trigger or coincides with the onset of a new condition.
The TUC report says the menopause “can often come at a time of life when women are already experiencing other issues or difficulties, such as the onset of age related health conditions, increasing caring responsibilities for elderly or sick parents and relatives as well as children or grandchildren”.
It adds that the main workplace issues include: poor ventilation and air quality, inadequate access to drinking water, inadequate or non-existent toilet/washing facilities, lack of control of temperature/light, lack of appropriate uniforms or personal protective equipment, inflexible working time rules/break times, inflexible policies which penalise women because of their symptoms, excessive workloads, workplace stress, lack of awareness of the menopause among managers and colleagues, lack of management training on women’s health issues, negative attitudes, bullying and harassment and insecure employment.
The report suggests some adjustments employers could make. For instance, they could adjust start and finish times if women are experiencing fatigue and sleep problems due to night sweats; they could consider more frequent rest breaks or a quiet room for women experiencing hot flushes and facial redness which may cause them to feel self-conscious or affect their concentration or train of thought; and they could carry out ‘thermal mapping’ to identify hot and cold spots in the workplace and provide easy access to water for women experiencing sudden temperature changes.
The report also lists how, for example, inflexibility and negative attitudes can worsen symptoms. It calls on employers to: