Impact of Menopause in the Workplace

18 Aug 2021

A conversation has started about how women in the workplace are treated when they start to experience menopausal symptoms. This conversation is long overdue, and slowly but surely, we have noticed a shift in understanding which hopefully will mean that women are no longer subjected to detrimental treatment because of the impact that menopausal symptoms have on day-to-day activities and working life.

In recent months, celebrities have been putting their names behind campaigns aimed at removing stigma and raising awareness about the menopause.

Research conducted by campaign group Menopause Experts ( shows that there has been a steady increase in claims in the Employment Tribunal. Their data reveals that in 2018 the menopause was referred to five times in employment tribunal applications, six in 2019 and 16 in 2020. There were 10 in the first six months of 2021.

The claims brought are varied and rely mainly on the protections offered by Equality Act 2010.  Menopause isn’t a recognised protected characteristic in itself.  However, the symptoms may be sufficiently severe to amount to a disability because of the adverse impact that they have on day-to-day activities.  This may mean that a claim is argued on the basis of discrimination arising from disability.

Claims have also been successfully brought for harassment. For example, Aggie Kownacka was told by her female boss it was “no big deal” that she would face menopause at the age of 37 and no longer be able to conceive children ( Claims might also be brought by alleging sex and/or age discrimination depending on the factual circumstances.

Here’s our guide to navigating the menopause at work and what steps to take if you need support.

In this article we cover:

  • What is the menopause?
  • Why is the menopause relevant to the workplace?
  • How does employment law offer you protection?
  • What steps should your employer take?
  • What should you do if you have been subject to discrimination?

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. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51. But around 1 in 100 women experience the menopause before they are 40 years of age.

Most women will experience some symptoms of the menopause which may include:

  • Changes to the menstrual cycle
  • Night sweats
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Cognitive changes (difficulty remembering names, directions, losing focus/train of thought)
  • Bone loss

Some of these can be quite severe and have a significant impact on your everyday activities.  Symptoms can start long before a woman’s periods stop which is why it is often described as menopausal transition. Many women in their early 40s start to experience symptoms caused by declining levels of oestrogen and not necessarily ascribe those changes to the menopause.

Why is the menopause relevant to the workplace?

The Office of National Statistics reported in 2017 that menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in the UK workforce. Women will often start experiencing menopausal symptoms when their careers are at their height in their 40s. (

As the menopause can have a detrimental impact on health and wellbeing this will impact working life.  With sleep badly affected, an early morning meeting may be poorly timed. Similarly, a hot flush in the midst of a presentation may in turn, lead to an anxiety attack. Or indeed the fear of hot flush could end up having pretty much the same impact.

Research has pointed to the fact that women in menopausal transition will experience some of the following:

  • Difference in experience and treatment to that of male peers
  • Questions about ability and productivity
  • Impact on pay
  • Change in career prospects
  • Risk of loss of employment

How does employment law offer you protection?

Employers owe their staff a duty of care, and failing to take account of an individual’s needs could leave an employer exposed to various legal challenges.

Health and Safety legislation is there to protect employees in the workplace. For example, failing to ensure adequate ventilation and a means of regulating temperature may mean that an employer is failing to offer a safe working environment. A serious failure to maintain a safe working environment can amount to a constructive dismissal; see here for our page on constructive dismissal.

The Equality Act 2010 is the crucial legislation to protect women from menopause discrimination. The claims that have been successful in the Tribunal demonstrate an acceptance that menopausal symptoms can be sufficiently severe to amount to a disability if there is a substantial, long term adverse effect on the ability to perform day-to-day activity. We are likely to see successful sex and age discrimination claims for harassment where there has been conduct – relating to sex or age – that violates your dignity, or creates a hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

For example, in 2019 a woman who worked at Bonmarche Limited brought successful claims in the employment tribunal for age and sex discrimination after being subjected to a bullying campaign. She was ridiculed because she was going through menopause and called a dinosaur. Following a period of absence, medical advice had recommended a phased return to work. Instead, the employer had imposed full shifts that resulted in the employee resigning and suffering a breakdown in her mental health.

What steps should your employer take?

Some organisations have started to introduce menopause policies which can be a useful point of reference to HR professionals and should mean that there is an organisational acknowledgement about the need to offer women support.  However, there will only be a change with growing awareness and the removal of the stigma that will allow women to discuss the impact of menopausal symptoms on their working days and making adjustments where necessary.

Examples include

  • Introduce accessible and well-publicised policy
  • Make appropriate and timely referrals to occupational health
  • Raise awareness and educate key stakeholders in the workplace
  • Take account of adjustments that are necessary to working environment/access to facilities

Key Elements of Menopause in the Workplace

  1. Not a legal one but crucial, seek medical advice about your symptoms;
  2. Identify symptoms and how aspects of your job may be having an adverse impact;
  3. Talk about it, inform colleagues and management;
  4. Ask for help and changes in working conditions to enable you to manage symptoms;
  5. Seek expert legal advice early if you are concerned about discrimination

What should you do if you have been subject to discrimination?

Like all discrimination claims, you must show that you have been subjected to unfavourable treatment because of the protected characteristic.

In cases where you have made requests for changes to your hours and/or working conditions, it is important that you have a record of when you made requests, what was said, any follow-ups etc.  Your employer will only have a responsibility to take action if they have knowledge of your menopausal symptoms and how this is having an adverse impact at work.  If you told someone in confidence, make sure that you have a clear record of what was said and what action they promised to take.

If your complaint relates to discriminatory comments made, again, evidence will be critical.  Most comments will be a throwaway remark which might seem innocuous on its own, but if there is a series of comments made, it will build a picture of conduct and the changed view of managers or colleagues.

Ways to record evidence:

  • Keep a diary of events
  • Make speech notes after an incident on your telephone when the event is fresh in your mind
  • Speak to a colleague
  • Take screenshots of emails and instant messages

Suppose the concerns relate to failures in terms of career development or being denied promotion opportunities. You will require strong evidence of how you have been treated less favourably and need to show that it is because of menopause.  Unfortunately, this will not be easy.  For example, in a sales environment, evidence that you were given less lucrative accounts to work on than a younger, male peer is unlikely to be, on its own, sufficient evidence of discrimination. However, if comments had been made about your reduced productivity and coupled with exclusionary behaviour this might start to build a picture of why your careers hasn’t developed as far.

In all cases that go to the employment tribunal, you will be expected to submit a grievance detailing your concerns about the treatment. Your employer will have a written policy that will set out the process and any options to appeal the outcome.  If tribunal proceedings are necessary, you will always need to be mindful of timelimits.

Related Links