On 19 January 2022, the Women and Equalities Select Committee (WESC) heard evidence from employment lawyers as part of its inquiry into menopause and the workplace; in particular, whether the menopause should be made a legally protected characteristic. Currently anyone experiencing a detriment if they are or are perceived to be going through the menopause (regardless of whether they are experiencing symptoms), must find legal workarounds relying on existing legal protections, such as disability discrimination or sex discrimination to argue their case.

The evidence is part of an inquiry launched by the WESC in July 2021, into workplace issues surrounding the menopause.  The inquiry looked at how well existing legislation protects women from discrimination, whether current legislation should be amended and whether further legislation is required to enable employers to put in place a menopause policy.

Whilst the conversation about menopause is opening up and is very much a hot topic at the moment, which is a positive step, more needs to be done.  Despite the menopause being a natural stage of the aging process, disappointingly the word ‘menopause’ in some workplaces still carries a stigma and there is a hesitancy to discuss it.

The Scale of the Issue

The menopause usually occurs between the ages of 40-55, but some women experience the menopause before 40 or after 55.  In the UK, there are over five million women in the workplace aged 40-55.  As life expectancy increases, modern women are spending nearly half of their lives menopausal.

Many women going through the menopause have physical or mental symptoms which impact on their work. Admittedly, some women sail through the menopause without any adverse symptoms.  However, that cannot be said for the majority.  It is thought that 75% will suffer symptoms of menopause transition with varying degrees of impact (source).

Imagine if there was a health problem which affected a large part of your workforce; problems with memory, ‘brain fog’, concentration and insomnia.  Wouldn’t this be a cause for concern?  Yet these are some of the common symptoms of the menopause.  Other common symptoms include:

  • Weight gain
  • Hot flushes
  • Night sweats
  • Painful joints
  • Depression
  • Mood swings/irritability
  • Anxiety

It is the mental symptoms which are said to cause women the most difficulties at work.  Whilst employers generally provide a safe environment in which to work, despite progress in the workplace, not all are alive to the health and safety issues surrounding the menopause, or they are simply unwilling to recognise there is a problem. Unfortunately, many women still continue to suffer in silence.

Many women who have performance problems related to their menopausal symptoms end up being managed out and others are under pressure to quit their jobs simply because they are not getting the support they need.

The charity Wellbeing of Women estimated that almost 900,000 women in the UK quit their jobs and that three in five women are negatively affected at work due to the menopause (source).  This exposes businesses to the threat of losing their most experienced female talent. This is shocking.  If men suffered from the menopause, I suspect we would be having a very different conversation.

What Does the Law Say?

There is no legal requirement to have a menopause policy or protect employees against menopausal symptoms.

Within the current framework in the Equality Act 2020 (EqA), there is some protection for women, but there is no specific protection for women going through the menopause.  Menopause discrimination would only be covered under the EqA if it fell under the ‘protected characteristics’ of sex, disability or age.   Due to the lack of clarity in the law, women seeking redress are left having to find a way of bringing their claim under one of these existing protected characteristics, which may be one of the reasons why there are very few tribunal cases on menopause transition.

The reported cases that we do have are brought either as sex or disability discrimination matters.

Raising Awareness

It is time to address the taboo of menopause.   Women are physiologically different to men and our different needs should be addressed in the workplace.

As already mentioned, there is insufficient legal guidance for both employers and employees and while current legislation could be used to help menopausal women, clearly something more specific is required.

However, legislation alone is not sufficient; it is about practical interventions in the workplace. Employers need to listen, respond and give support to those who need it.  Without the right culture, taboos will remain.

Pathways of Support

If someone is struggling at work with menopausal symptoms, how do they get the support they need?

A starting point is to normalise the conversation. Symptoms of the menopause can be embarrassing, therefore getting people comfortable with the topic, and continuing the conversation is challenging.  However, by talking about it openly, raising awareness and putting the right support in place, perhaps we could get to a place where menopause is no longer a taboo.

A key point in normalising the conversation is making it widely available. It is important to keep the discussions flexible, as not all women will want to raise issues with their line manager.  An employer could put support systems in place whereby an employee can speak to someone else, for example another line manager or introducing menopause champions and/or open forums for women who are suffering menopausal symptoms.

It should be borne in mind that not all employees will be comfortable talking openly about the menopause and how it affects them, so it is important to ensure that women know there is support and that they can talk confidentiality and with anyone in the organisation they feel comfortable with, whether that is their line manager, HR, or someone else.

It is important to train line managers on talking about the menopause and how to support staff, including how to identify appropriate workplace adjustments where required.  If someone’s performance is suffering as a result of menopausal symptoms, it is important to discuss potential workplace adjustments not just on an annual basis, but to have regular, informal catch ups and approach conversations supportively and positively.

As part of this initiative, Employers may want to put in place a menopause policy. It is not about special treatment but levelling the playing field.  We all have a part to play.


If you need specific advice or training on menopausal issues, drafting policies, or any other employment advice, please contact a member of the Employment team.