The TUC has recently been holding regional workshops countrywide to raise the awareness of the menopause and its impact on women in the workplace and what action trade unions can take to support members and encourage employers to make adjustments and to recognise their responsibilities in ensuring conditions in the workplace don’t make matters worse. This is increasingly needed as the number of women in the workplace is at the highest ever, especially within the public sector, coupled with the fact that women are having to work longer. TUC figures state that over 3.5 million women in the workplace are over the age of 50.
What is the menopause?
The menopause is a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, as a woman’s oestrogen levels decline and marks the time when a woman’s periods stop. It usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55 and the average age for a woman to reach the menopause in the UK is 52. A woman is said to have reached the menopause once she has not had a period for one year. After this point, she can be described as post-menopausal. Around 1 in 100 women experience the menopause before 40 years of age.
During the time leading up to the menopause the changes that are associated with the menopause begin. Some women experience almost no symptoms but around 80 per cent do experience noticeable changes and of these, 45 per cent find their symptoms difficult to deal with. The most common symptoms are hot flushes, night sweats and irritability. They can also include: osteoporosis, joint pain, weight gain, hair loss, irregular periods, lowered sex drive, mental fragility including memory loss, anxiety, sleep deprivation, cardiovascular problems including palpitations, facial hair, loss of fertility, dryness of skin, eyes, vagina.
A TUC survey showed that many women found they were little prepared for the arrival of the menopause, and even less equipped to manage its symptoms at work. Over half had not disclosed their symptoms to their manager. Although workplaces differ, the following can all impact on the ability of women to deal with the symptoms listed above: shared windows, poor ventilation, no access to temperature control, travel, access to facilities, lone working, shift work, uniforms that do not use natural fibres, stress, access to water, lack of ability to take breaks, lack of training and awareness.
The main employment laws pertaining to the menopause are:
Health and safety at work
2010 Equality Act
The Health and Safety at Work Act requires employers to ensure the health safety and welfare of their employees; also they have a duty not to discriminate against employees due to gender and age under the Equalities Act.
Case Law – there have been 3 cases brought to employment tribunal all of them under Equalities legislation, two out of three found in favour of worker/union.
What can employers do?
The case for employers supporting women in the workplace going through the menopause should not just be seen through a legal perspective there are sound economic reasons and also a duty of care and corporate social responsibility reasons. The latter relates to the need to ensure that mid-life women have the highest possible quality of working life, and are able to work for as long as they choose, unimpeded by menopause-related difficulties. And menopause symptoms can affect performance at work, contributing to higher sickness absence. If a woman has to leave work because of her symptoms, replacing her costs as well as the benefits of retaining expertise and experience.
. The TUC makes a number of recommendations that include the following:
- ensure that all line managers have been trained to be aware of how the menopause can affect working women and what adjustments may be necessary to sup ort them
- as part of a wider occupational health awareness campaign, issues such as the menopause are
highlighted so all staff know that the employer has a positive attitude to the issue, and that it is not something that women should feel embarrassed about.
- Policy and guidance on how to deal with the menopause should be freely available in the workplace.
What can unions do?
- raise this issue with employers and work jointly to deliver awareness raising activities in the workplace
- challenge them when adjustments are not being made
- share learning amongst all stewards and branch officers
- inform members by newsletters, social media, and other methods
Dr Louise Newson: https://www.menopausedoctor.co.uk/
ACAS: will be providing guidance on Menopause and workplace in 2019
There are fairly simple support mechanisms that may be introduced to ease problematic menopausal symptoms at work. Strategies include obtaining fans, adjusting working hours, taking precautionary measures such as wearing layers of clothes, and having a change of clothes at work. Some women use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help cope with the more troublesome symptoms. In addition, more general strategies such as altering their diet, trying to sleep longer at weekends, doing more exercise, wearing layers of clothing help symptoms.