Working women need greater menopause rights

For women in the workplace, pregnancy is considered one of nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act in the UK. That means that it is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of pregnancy or maternity, but it also means that you're entitled to reasonable adjustments to support you in doing your job. With menopause being an unavoidable, and often highly disruptive change to a woman's body, which can severely alter her ability to function at work, isn't it time that it too became a protected characteristic? And is the path being laid out for just that?


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How can menopause affect a woman's needs in the workplace?

The consequences of hormonal change in menopause can go on for a long time, can change over time and can be quite disruptive to life in general. In the working environment where we all want to be professional and do our jobs well, these various consequences can be particularly challenging, and can make it difficult for us to feel effective or functional in a structured environment.

In particular, hot flushes can make it uncomfortable at work and can leave you feeling the need to change clothes. Poor concentration, tiredness, poor memory, feeling low/depressed and lowered confidence can all also impact how you work and how you feel about work. However, with the right support, women can thrive at work through menopause and beyond. Importantly, menopausal women are extremely valuable, experienced members of the workforce, and if they either want or need to work, it is a loss to all of us if they are pushed out of the workplace through a lack of support and understanding.
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What are reasonable adjustments?

Reasonable adjustments is a fairly woolly term, and intentionally so, because it needs to adapt for different working environments. Citizens Advice notes the following:

Adjustments only have to be made if it’s reasonable to do so. What's a reasonable thing to ask for depends on things like:
  • Your concern
  • How practicable the changes are
  • If the change you ask for would overcome the disadvantage
  • The size of the organisation
  • How much money and resources are available
  • The cost of making the changes
  • If any changes have already been made
However, they categorise the capacity for reasonable adjustments into three areas:
  • Change the way things are done (e.g. company policies)
  • Change a physical feature (e.g. altering staircases and steps for disabilities)
  • Provide extra aids or services (e.g. audio facilities for employees who are visually impaired)


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What reasonable adjustments could help menopausal women at work?

The reasonable suggestions for menopausal women at work vary according to the consequences that different women experience. For some, hot flushes/hot flashes are at the forefront of consideration, for some it's about company culture and understanding, and for many brain fog and memory issues play a significant role in their confidence at work.

Some of the reasonable adjustments that have been suggested to support women in different working environments include:
  • Flexible working
  • Time off
  • A different uniform (made from breathable fabrics) or multiple uniforms to change into if you are experiencing hot flushes
  • Moving your workstation to a cooler part of the office or asking for a fan
  • Access to technologies that can help with memory issues


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What's happening right now to support menopause rights?

There's a lot of discussion brewing around menopause at the moment, and also about women's wellbeing. We recently wrote about the proposed Women’s Health Strategy for England. In addition, the Women and Equalities Committee has said a lack of support for women in menopause in the UK is pushing women out of work.

They have explicitly highlighted that they want menopause to become a protected characteristic like pregnancy, to give working women more rights, including piloting a policy of 'menopause leave'. They have also suggested the government introduce a dedicated ‘Menopause Ambassador’ in a bid to keep more women in the workplace.

Stylist magazine commented that the committee's aim is:
"to reduce the number of “highly skilled and experienced” women having to leave work because of menopausal symptoms, after research by Bupa found that 900,000 women had left their jobs over an unspecified period under these circumstances."
Key areas of issue, which would support the need for menopause to become a protected characteristic include:
"the report found that stigma, a lack of support and discrimination play key roles in forcing menopausal employees out of the workplace; in a survey of over 2,000 women commissioned by the committee, 67% reported 'a loss of confidence' as a result of menopausal symptoms and 70% reported 'increased stress'."
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