By Kate Wyatt

MANY of the taboos which have for far too long surrounded the menopause are thankfully starting to disappear. It’s not an issue we should avoid talking about. Indeed, the more it’s spoken about, the better.

Yet how we talk is crucial, especially when at work, where insensitive comments on the matter, even if intended as funny or flippant, may set back progress.

And, not being considerate towards colleagues could put employers at risk of expensive discrimination claims – meaning managers must be mindful about how menopause-related issues or related absences are dealt with.

A powerful reminder of this came recently via a case in England where a social worker resigned and brought claims of unfair dismissal, sex and disability discrimination, citing menopause symptoms as a disability.

An employment appeal tribunal was told that the woman involved had a number of symptoms, from hot flushes and insomnia to depression, anxiety, joint pain, memory loss and migraines. These often left her bed-ridden, unable to manage them and her work.

She argued a number of actions by her employer were discriminatory, including a failure to consider reasonable adjustments, insensitive comments made about her hot flushes and issuing a formal written warning for menopause-related absence.

It was ruled that the “ordinary” symptoms described were capable of amounting to a disability for legal purposes, potentially triggering obligations to make reasonable adjustments.

This was a case which not only highlighted the difficulties that some people experiencing menopause face in the workplace, but the fact that more awareness is needed to minimise the risk of employers being pursued for discrimination.

Of course, not everyone experiencing menopause will experience such severe symptoms or meet the definition of disability under the Equality Act, though pressure is building for menopause to be be classified as a protected characteristic in itself, avoiding the need for it to be shown to meet the legal definition of disability.

People experiencing symptoms and effects, however, can often be faced with a lack of understanding, willingness to accept their severity and a tendency to downplay them. Managers need to be alert to how serious these issues can be so they can do the best for everyone.

Thanks in part to high-profile figures including Davina McCall and Penny Lancaster sharing their experiences – and enlightening events such as #FlushFest2021, organised by Perth charity Menopause Cafe, which I was pleased to take part in – we are talking more openly about the menopause and its impact.

We want more people to feel comfortable in following their lead, but they are not going to if they fear they’re going to be met with insensitive responses.

The more open mindset we are seeing in wider society needs to be better reflected in workplaces. Employers need access to more training, guidance and examples of good practice.

When we talk about “the change”, our focus needs to be on changing attitudes so that we all become better colleagues, rather than the menopause simply being viewed as part of the biological clock that we need to live with. Time has moved on.

Kate Wyatt is Partner in Employment Law at Lindsays