Susan Mayall: How to consider HRT and menopause in the workplace

HRTAt Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers, which has three offices across the Manchester area, we announced that we will pay for any hormone replacement therapy (HRT) medication needed by staff from April. We have also developed a menopause policy to share across the firm, including training all teams on understanding the menopause and how it might affect colleagues.

Around 78% of our staff are female, so we wanted to give our employees the confidence to come forward if any issues surrounding the menopause are affecting them and be assured that they will be dealt with in a sympathetic, understanding and, above all, professional manner making our workplace a kinder place to be. It makes absolute sense to support staff through this time, they bring a wealth of experience to businesses and we do not want to lose their input.

Furthermore, legal issues surrounding the menopause are increasing, with employers potentially facing more employment tribunal claims. When considering menopause in a workplace scenario, disability discrimination is the most likely area to gain traction in tribunals.

Menopause discrimination is currently covered under the Equality Act 2010 under the protected characteristics of age, sex and disability discrimination. If a woman could provide evidence that she has suffered a physical or mental impairment and it has a substantial long term adverse effect on her day-to-day activities then she would gain protection.

We advise business owners to keep communication channels open with staff, just as they would if the employee had broken their leg or had a cancer diagnosis.

It is estimated that almost one million UK women, many at the peak of their careers, have left work with issues surrounding the menopause. An increasing number are citing the menopause, alongside unfair dismissal and sex discrimination, in tribunal claims. One recent tribunal referencing the menopause stated that treatment by the employer amounted to harassment. In another claim a woman was ruled disabled ‘by reason of the menopause’.

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A menopause policy in staff handbooks could help an employer use the statutory defence if harassment was linked to the menopause and its symptoms, but it would need evidence that training, support and advice had been given, rather than just relying on having a policy.

Susan Mayall is head of employment law at Pearson Solicitors