The number of tribunals relating to menopause continues to rise, according to HM Courts and Tribunals Service.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice & Consultancy Director, says: “The rise in cases is not because menopause symptoms have only just become an issue. It’s because individuals – and rightly so – are bringing attention to the discrimination that unfortunately all too often has been allowed to slide in the workplace.

“What once was a subject that was swept under the rug and ignored, is now at the forefront of employers’ minds should they want to provide an inclusive workplace and avoid tribunal claims.”

Consultancy Menopause Experts’ research shows that menopause was mentioned eight times in employment disputes in 2017. This number has since rocketed to 116 times in the first half of 2021 alone.

And while menopause is not automatically considered to be a disability, certain elements of the condition could be considered under the Equality Act (2010), as ruled by the Employment Appeal Tribunal in the case of Rooney v Leicester City Councilearlier this year.

There are currently 34 recognised menopause symptoms, the most common being brain fog, depression joint pain, hot flushes, and irritability, each of which can, not surprisingly, have a substantial negative impact on the ability to carry out work.

Around 80% of working women will at some point experience menopause symptoms in the course of employment so it’s hardly surprising that one in four people of this group have considered quitting their job.

Kate Palmer urges businesses to enhance their support for employees going through menopause or face legal action.

“Although it’s a shame that many employers aren’t providing vital support already as the increase in tribunals indicates, it is great to see that instead of suffering in silence, employees are now challenging employers.

“Employers must break the taboo. Whether out of embarrassment or ignorance, the signs that employees are finding it difficult to work through severe physical effects of menopause may not be taken seriously. It’s clear that the practical result of a failure to act correctly is the prospect of more tribunal claims. With some menopausal employees classified as disabled, the consequences of failure to support staff at this time in their lives are heftier. If managers don’t properly support their employees it can lead to staff feeling angry and unappreciated, which then leads to high turnover and grievance claims.

“Employees going through the menopause are protected from discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of their age, sex, or disability. However, many workers feel that current legislation does not go far enough to support and protect women in the workplace during this difficult time in their lives. As a result, many experienced and highly skilled employees feel they have no choice but to leave their professions. An increased number are enforcing their rights through the employment tribunal, as latest figures suggest. These cases are bringing to the fore the reality of the treatment of women at work and the harassment they can sometimes face.

“There have been calls for new legislation to be introduced requiring employers to have a specific menopause policy. We wait to see whether the Government confirms this new law.

“However, taking a positive and proactive approach to managing the menopause at work can certainly help employers to retain valued staff, attract new talent, boost productivity, and improve workers’ wellbeing.

“It’s crucial that managers make adaptations to help employees manage health conditions, so it’s important to talk to anyone who is struggling and find out how you can help them. Introducing training on the issues surrounding menopause is a great place to start as it can help managers know how to approach the issue sensitively.

“You could even appoint a dedicated staff member as a menopause champion – so if employees feel uncomfortable raising the topic with their manager, they have another option available.