The Menopause: Practical advice for employees
By Martin Williams, Head of Employment and Partner at Mayo Wynne Baxter
The menopause is not something new, but what is new is the way it is slowly becoming less taboo. This change is coming about because of concerted and welcome campaigns.
It is remarkable that a perfectly natural process that affects half the population has to be subject to such an effort to get the proper attention it deserves. I say proper because the menopause, when addressed, usually gets mentioned in hushed tones or as the butt of deflective humour when raised in wider circles which tend to be male dominated.
It is has taken a long time for pregnancy and maternity rights to be specifically recognised. Thankfully, paternity rights are also on the agenda as society, again slowly, comes round to the idea of male parents playing their part in the raising of the next generation. What our society appears to be less willing to do, is provide the same space for the menopause.
For many men, the thought of talking about women’s experiences such as the menopause is not something to be contemplated. But of course, if men are going to try to understand the women who are important in their lives, they need to understand what they are going through and how they are feeling.
The impact of menopause on women varies. By and large two out of ten women go through it without too much trouble. Flip that around and the problem should be obvious, even to the most reluctant male. For so many women the menopause has such a detrimental impact on them, that legally they can be regarded as having a disability. It is not a condition that has a quick solution. It is painful, debilitating and life-changing.
While it is possible for women to find protection in the workplace through existing sex, age and disability discrimination, sadly the legislation it is not a perfect fit. Enforcement of rights is also an issue.
Latterly cases have centred on disability discrimination but that means trying to get the impairment to such a level that it is regarded as a disability. There is no logical reason for the consequences of the menopause to have to be addressed in such a way.
We all need to be open about the menopause. The more open we are, the more we will be able to help those for whom it presents severe problems in their day-to-day lives. The menopause is a part of life that should be acknowledged and allowed for, both in life and the workplace.
The time is long overdue for employers to step up and recognise the role they have to play in helping this societal shift. For those employers who will drag their feet, we need specific legislation to assist and assure women about their working lives as they approach and experience the menopause. While it could be argued that current legislation could be used to help the increasing number of menopausal women in the workforce, something more specific is required. Fresh legislation will highlight a subject that needs to be addressed seriously and help provide a mind shift in the workplace.
If the menopause happened to men, I would wager the issue would have been fully addressed before now.