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Bosses must make allowances for menopausal women or risk breaching equality laws under the first official guidance from watchdog


Bosses have been warned they risk breaching equality laws unless they allow menopausal women to wear cooler uniforms, and work from home on hot days.

The human rights watchdog also says today that women suffering from hot flushes or ‘brain fog’ should be given quiet rooms to rest in and have fans or air conditioning in their workplaces.

In its first guidance on the topic, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has told employers they must make allowances for female employees with severe symptoms, just as they do for those with disabilities.

They could also be found guilty of sex or age discrimination if they penalise staff for having to take time off when they are suffering. If they ridicule women for their problems, it may constitute harassment.

The EHRC says it will cost managers hundreds of thousands of pounds to defend such claims – as well as losing valuable employees.

Bosses have been warned they risk breaching equality laws unless they allow menopausal women to wear cooler uniforms and work from home on hot days (Stock Image)

Bosses have been warned they risk breaching equality laws unless they allow menopausal women to wear cooler uniforms and work from home on hot days (Stock Image)

In its first guidance on the topic, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has told employers they must make allowances for female employees with severe symptoms (Stock Image)

In its first guidance on the topic, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has told employers they must make allowances for female employees with severe symptoms (Stock Image)

Chairman Baroness Falkner said last night: ‘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.’

The EHRC cites research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development that found two-thirds of working women aged between 40 and 60 said menopausal symptoms had negatively affected their jobs, including reducing concentration, increasing stress and leaving them less able to carry out tasks. 

Half said they had on occasion been unable to go into work because of their symptoms, while separate research by the Fawcett Society found that one in ten women had left their jobs as a result.

Amid growing concern at the lack of support for the millions of women who suffer debilitating symptoms when their hormone levels drop and periods end, the Government has set up a UK Menopause Taskforce to improve access to treatment and appointed a Menopause Employment Champion to encourage major bosses to do more for staff.

NHS bosses have also vowed to improve conditions for its workforce, while Labour has pledged to give menopausal women the right to work from home and have paid time off for health appointments.

Half of women had on occasion been unable to go into work because of their symptoms (Stock Image)

Half of women had on occasion been unable to go into work because of their symptoms (Stock Image)

In a landmark Employment Tribunal case currently awaiting judgment, social worker Maria Rooney claims she was discriminated against and victimised by Leicester City Council for suffering menopause symptoms. Judges have already ruled that her symptoms, along with stress and anxiety, amounted to a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act.

Now the EHRC, which backed Ms Rooney’s case, has for the first time set out the legal obligations on all employers and given them advice on the adjustments they can make for menopausal staff.

Its guidance states: ‘Under the Equality Act 2010, workers are protected from discrimination, harassment and victimisation on the basis of protected characteristics including disability, age and sex.

‘If menopause symptoms have a long-term and substantial impact on a woman’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, these symptoms could be considered a disability.

‘If menopause symptoms amount to a disability, an employer will be under a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments.

‘They will also be under a legal obligation to not directly or indirectly discriminate because of the disability or subject the woman to discrimination arising from disability.’ It adds that under health and safety legislation, ’employers also have a legal obligation to conduct an assessment of their workplace risks’.

Women and equalities committee chairman Caroline Nokes told the Mail: ‘I hope this guidance helps – we know too many women are forced out of work due to challenging menopause symptoms. Of course the menopause is not a disability and should not be seen as that, rather something that will pass with the right support and medication.’

Minister for Disabled People, Health & Work Mims Davies said: ‘This new guidance will raise even more awareness among the business community and help women by improving understanding of their rights. Not only is this vital for the progression of women in the workforce, it’s vital for the growth of our economy.’

Labour’s Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary Anneliese Dodds said: ‘This guidance from the EHRC is welcome, but women experiencing menopause deserve more.

‘Labour would require large employers to produce menopause action plans and produce guidance for small employers in how to support employees experiencing menopause.’



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