Employers must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for women going through menopause

<span>New guidance issued by the Equality and Human Rights Commission says menopause symptoms with a long term and substantial impact on women’s day-to-day activities may be considered a disability. </span><span>Photograph: Anna Gowthorpe/PA</span>
New guidance issued by the Equality and Human Rights Commission says menopause symptoms with a long term and substantial impact on women’s day-to-day activities may be considered a disability. Photograph: Anna Gowthorpe/PA

Employers could be sued for disability discrimination if they fail to make “reasonable adjustments” for women going through menopause under new guidance issued by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) on Thursday, amid concern over the number of women leaving their jobs due to symptoms.

If the symptoms have a long term and substantial impact on a woman’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities they may be considered a disability, the EHRC say.

Under the Equality Act 2010, an employer will be under a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments and to not discriminate against workers.

The guidance also states that workers experiencing symptoms may be protected against less favourable treatment related to their menopause symptoms on the grounds of age and sex.

Research shows that one in 10 women surveyed who have worked during menopause have left their role due to symptoms that can include anxiety, mood swings, brain fog, hot flushes and irregular periods.

Two-thirds of working women between the ages of 40 and 60 with experience of symptoms said they have had a mostly negative impact on their work life, a study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found.

Baroness Kishwer Falkner, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “As Britain’s equality watchdog, we are concerned both by how many women report being forced out of a role due to their menopause-related symptoms and how many don’t feel safe enough to request the workplace adjustments.

“An employer understanding their legal duties is the foundation of equality in the workplace. But it is clear that many may not fully understand their responsibility to protect their staff going through the menopause. Our new guidance sets out these legal obligations for employers and provides advice on how they can best support their staff.

“We hope that this guidance helps ensure every woman going through the menopause is treated fairly and can work in a supportive and safe environment.”

Menopause is when a woman’s periods stop due to lower hormone levels, usually between the ages of 45 and 55.

The change can happen due to a variety of reasons including genetics, surgery or cancer treatments. Sometimes, the reason is unknown.

In November, draft guidelines to GPs from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) were criticised by some experts, MPs and campaigners, for stating that women experiencing hot flushes, night sweats, depression and sleep problems could be offered cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) “alongside or as an alternative to” hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help reduce their menopause symptoms.

Critics said it belittled symptoms through misogynistic language, and women’s health would suffer as a result of failing to emphasise the benefits of HRT on bone and cardiovascular health as opposed to CBT.

Carolyn Harris, the MP for Swansea East and the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on menopause, said the guidance was “antiquated”, “naive” and “ill thought-out”.

A Nice spokesperson said at the time: “The draft guidance makes clear that it is important that healthcare practitioners take a personalised approach when discussing treatment options, tailored to individual circumstances. The impact of menopause symptoms on quality of life can vary hugely.

“New evidence shows that cognitive behavioural therapy can help reduce menopause symptoms including hot flushes and night sweats, depressive symptoms and problems sleeping.

“The draft guidance makes it clear that CBT could be considered alongside or as an alternative to hormone replacement therapy and sets out the risks and benefits of different treatment options so people can work with their healthcare practitioner to agree what works best for their particular needs.”