ACAS Guidance on the Menopause

In this alert we look at potential issues for employers managing employees going through the menopause, following guidance published by ACAS.

The menopause is a natural stage of life for women.

The Equality Act 2010 protects employees against discrimination. This includes the protected characteristics of sex, disability and age. While the menopause itself is not one of the protected characteristics, employees could still qualify for protection if they are treated less favourably as a result of their symptoms.

The risks were demonstrated starkly in the case of Merchant v BT plc, where the tribunal upheld the employee’s claim of direct sex discrimination. Ms Merchant was dismissed for poor performance, having provided BT with a letter from her doctor which stated that she was going through the menopause which can affect her levels of concentration.  The manager dealing with the performance management process failed to conduct further investigation into her symptoms, instead relying on his knowledge of symptoms experienced by his wife and another colleague.  In upholding the claim of direct discrimination, the tribunal commented that the manager would never have adopted “this bizarre and irrational approach with other non-female related conditions”.

ACAS has produced practical guidance for employers on managing any issues that may arise and support employees going through the menopause. Key points include:

1. Guidance on symptoms, effects and difficulties in discussing them.

2. Health and safety checks.

3. Policies and enabling employees to discuss matters outside of their usual reporting lines, together with advice on training managers to identify symptoms and deal with issues.

4. Managing sickness absence and performance issues carefully. 

5. Temporary changes to assist the employee in managing their symptoms.

6. Managing colleagues.

Statistics show that around two million women have difficulties at work due to their menopause symptoms. It is therefore very much in the interests of employers to make sure they understand and support employees.

If you have any queries in relation to any HR or Employment Law issues please contact our employment team on 01228 552600 or 01524 548494.

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