If you’re struggling at work because of the menopause or perimenopause, you may be worried about how your employer will react. You might already be subject to a disciplinary or performance improvement process, have been dismissed, or are considering leaving your job. But although the menopause isn’t specifically a “protected characteristic” under the Equality Act, you do have rights.
Throughout this guide we refer to the menopause affecting women. However, we recognise that people who don’t identify as women may also go through the menopause.
In This Guide…
Our employment solicitors will explain your legal position, as well as practical things you can do to help your situation.
If you’d like to speak to one of our experienced team about your case, please call us on 0207 650 3999.
How Can The Menopause Affect Your Work?
As a result of menopausal symptoms, you might find yourself:
- Needing to take time off work at very short notice (for example if you haven’t slept well the night before or because you have a migraine)
- Needing to take extended or regular time of work due to persistent menopausal symptoms
- Finding it harder to get to work on time
- Needing more breaks, or extended breaks
- Struggling to stick to rigid shift or working patterns
- Lacking concentration and/or forgetting things
- Finding yourself being less patient with people, or becoming irritated more easily
- Suddenly finding your working environment less comfortable (for instance if you’re suffering from hot flushes, daytime sweats or headaches)
- Lacking self-confidence
- Suffering from low mood, anxiety or stress.
You may be worried about the impact of the menopause on your work and whether your employer will view your performance negatively. If this is the case it’s important to speak to your employer as soon as possible.
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What Should You Do If You’re Struggling At Work Because Of The Menopause?
If you find yourself starting to struggle at work, the best thing you can do is to have an open and honest conversation with your line manager. While you might want to keep your menopause private, or be embarrassed to talk about it, it’s better to have a conversation early on.
Your employer might be able to help you in a number of ways, including:
- Informing you about your organisation’s menopause policy, if it has one. A menopause policy sets out how your employer will support you. While at present most employers don’t have a menopause policy, the number that do is growing rapidly
- Discussing whether a flexible working arrangement might help
- Looking at your working conditions and whether reasonable adjustments can be made (such as moving your desk to a cooler area, providing a desk fan, or letting you have more regular breaks)
- Letting you know about employee benefits you might not be aware of (many companies have employee assistance helplines for instance)
- Setting up regular performance catch-ups where you can talk constructively about how things are going and how your employer can help.
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What Employment Rights Do You Have If You’re Going Through The Menopause?
Your employment rights are protected across a number of different laws.
Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act protects people from being discriminated against because of a number of characteristics such as age, race or sex. However, the menopause isn’t yet one of these “protected characteristics”.
Although the menopause isn’t specifically protected by this law, you’re still protected from being discriminated against because of your:
You must not be discriminated against or harassed because of your age.
In many cases severe menopausal symptoms could be classed as a disability. Your employer should think about making reasonable adjustments so that you’re not at a disadvantage because of your symptoms. If they don’t do this they might be discriminating against you.
Your employer mustn’t treat you less favourably than a male colleague because of your sex. If your employer has policies, practices or criteria that are harder for you to stick to or meet because of your sex, they must have legitimate reason for this (and do all they can to reduce any negative impact on you). If they don’t, your employer may be discriminating against you.
Health & Safety at Work Act 1974
Your employer has a legal duty to protect your health, safety and welfare. They should conduct a risk assessment and consider what steps it needs to take to protect menopausal staff such as:
- Allowing you more frequent breaks
- Giving you access to cool drinking water
- Moving your desk or workstation to be closer to the toilets
- Providing a quiet space where you can rest
- Moving your desk or workstation to give you better access to natural light or ventilation (or providing you with a fan).
If you haven’t had a workstation assessment recently, or since you’ve been experiencing menopausal symptoms, it’s worth speaking to your HR or health and safety representative.
Right To Request Flexible Working
Every employee in the UK has had the right to request flexible working provided they have worked for their employer for at least 26 weeks. Many employers say they will listen to flexible working requests from day one of employment.
Flexible working may be particularly helpful if you’re going through the menopause. As part of a flexible working request you can ask to:
- Change the time you start or finish work (or for your start/finish time to be flexible)
- Work from home more often
- Reduce your hours or suggest a job share.
If you choose to make a flexible working request, it’s helpful to mention that you’re making your request because you’re going through the menopause. While your employer doesn’t have to grant your request, they do have to consider it in a “reasonable manner”. They will also need to think about whether refusing your request might be seen as discriminatory.
How you frame your request is important. Our lawyers can help you draft a flexible working request to maximise your chances of it being successful. Call us on 0207 650 3999 to find out more.
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Can You Be Signed Off Work Because Of The Menopause?
You may be signed off for symptoms caused by the menopause (for example anxiety and depression, joint pains and sleeplessness). When speaking with your GP you should explain the symptoms you have as fully as possible. Ask whether they think these symptoms are related to the menopause, and if possible to reference that on your doctor’s note (fit note).
Many GPs don’t have specialist knowledge of the menopause, and may not immediately link symptoms to the hormonal changes you’re going through. Be persistent and do your research. To help you have better conversations with your GP, you should record and track your symptoms – the free Balance app is a great way to do this. If you’d prefer to speak to a specialist, The British Menopause Society website has a tool that allows you to find a menopause specialist near you.
It’s important to be open and honest with your employer when taking time off work for menopausal symptoms. While it’s natural to worry about how taking time off may look, being upfront about it with your employer can help.
Employers shouldn’t treat all women who are affected by menopause symptoms in the same way - some women suffer more than others. But it’s important to discuss your own situation and your employer should try to support you where they reasonably can.
Your employer might be able to make some “reasonable adjustments” which could include:
- Recording menopause related absences separately
- Allowing you to work flexibly (for example by starting at a later time, or working from home)
- Giving you more time to improve your performance or attendance.
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What Are Your Options If You’ve Been Dismissed Or Forced To Leave Your Job?
If you've been dismissed or forced to leave your job, you may be able to take your case to the Employment Tribunal on the basis of unfair dismissal, constructive dismissal or discrimination.
Unfair Or Constructive Dismissal Claims
You might feel that you can’t challenge your employer if they’ve dismissed you for reasons such as poor attendance, misconduct or poor performance. However, you might be able to appeal your dismissal if your employer hasn’t:
- Properly considered how your menopausal symptoms are relevant to the issues it was unhappy with
- Followed a fair procedure when dismissing you.
If your appeal isn’t successful you may then be able to make an unfair dismissal claim. You have three months less one day from the date your employment ended to make an unfair dismissal claim in the Employment Tribunal, regardless of whether or not your appeal has been heard. You’ll need to have worked for your employer for at least two years to make a claim for unfair dismissal (although if the dismissal is discriminatory you do not need two years of service).
If you feel that you’ve been forced out of your role because of a lack of support by your employer, you make be able to make a constructive dismissal claim. It’s a good idea to get legal advice as soon as possible to understand if you’ve been treated unfairly. There are strict time limits that apply though so don’t delay – you have three months less one day from the date your employment ended to start a claim.
Although the menopause isn’t specifically protected under the Equality Act, you might be protected from discrimination through another “protected characteristic” such as disability, sex or age.
Most discrimination claims are made on the basis that menopausal symptoms can be considered a disability. To be successful with these claims, you must be able to show that your symptoms have had a big impact on your ability to do normal day-to-day activities, over a period of 12 months or more (or are likely to extend over 12 months or more). In the context of work, normal day-to-day activities could include being unable to keep to a timetable or shift pattern, or not being able to concentrate.
Even if you haven’t told your employer that you’re going through the menopause, you may still be able to make a discrimination claim. Your employer should investigate the underlying reasons for your behaviour or poor performance before taking disciplinary action against you. There are strict time limits for making discrimination claims - three months less one day from the last discriminatory act. If you feel you’ve been discriminated against, it’s sensible to get advice at an early stage.
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Advice For Employers About The Menopause
Women aged 50-64 are the fastest growing demographic in the UK, and make up 70% of working women. If your business isn’t thinking about how to support and retain employees during the menopause, you risk losing their experience and expertise.
We offer a free employer’s guide to the menopause to get you started. This guide explains:
- What the menopause is
- Why the menopause is a workplace issue
- Why you should act now
- The types of claim an employee can bring if they haven’t been properly supported during the menopause
- Practical ways you can support your staff
- A template menopause policy document.
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If you have an employment law issue related to the menopause, call us today on 0207 650 3999 and find out how we can help.
- NHS website
The NHS website has some basic information about the symptoms of the menopause, when to see your GP, and possible treatments.
- Balance app
Free app that lets you track your symptoms, access personalised advice, and get support.
- Women’s Health Concern
This website is run by the British Menopause Society. It’s full of useful help, advice and support.
- Free employer’s guide to the menopause
Our free downloadable guide gives employers practical advice on how you can support your staff. The guide also includes a free menopause policy template.