Equalities Watchdog Highlights Employers’ Legal Obligations in New Menopause in the Workplace Guidance

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has published new guidance on menopause in the workplace to help employers understand their legal obligations relating to women who are going through the menopause as well as details on the support they should provide affected employees.

This includes advice on making reasonable adjustments for women who are experiencing the menopause so they can continue to contribute to work and encouraging positive conversations about this personal issue to help create a safe and supportive work environment.

Although the menopause is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, disability is. Therefore, if a female employee’s menopause symptoms have a long term and significant impact on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, these symptoms could be considered a disability, says the EHRC. As result, employers will have a legal responsibility to act to safeguard these employees.


In October last year, the EHRC reported on its support for Maria Rooney , a social worker for Leicester City Council, who had taken periods of extended sickness absence after suffering from menopause symptoms, and anxiety and depression in 2017 and 2018.

Rooney’s employer subsequently issued her with a formal warning over her leave despite the social worker disclosing her menopause symptoms she was suffering. After resigning in October 2018, Rooney brought a claim against Leicester City Council at an Employment Tribunal.

At a preliminary hearing in February 2022, an Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that Rooney’s ‘disability was by virtue of her symptoms of menopause combined with symptoms of stress and anxiety’.

The EHRC notes that this is the first Employment Appeal Tribunal decision that menopause symptoms can amount to a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010, thereby setting a legal precedent.

However, it is not the only case to reference the menopause in cases of unfair dismissal or direct sex discrimination at employment tribunals. According to figures released by Menopause Experts in September 2021, there were five employment tribunals in the UK in 2018 that referenced the claimant’s menopause. This rose to six in 2019, 16 in 2020 and 10 in the first six months of 2021.

Under the Equality Act, employers have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments for an employee when their symptoms amount to a disability. The law also makes it clear that employers cannot directly or indirectly discriminate against an employee because of their disability or subject a woman to discrimination arising from her disability.

The EHRC’s guidance advises employers that women who experience menopause symptoms may also be protected from direct and indirect discrimination, as well as harassment and victimisation, on the grounds of age and sex.

In addition to these responsibilities, employers also have another legal responsibility under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to undertake an assessment of the individual’s workplace risks.


As Sarah Davies, co-founder and director of Talking Menopause, explains in IOSH magazine’s ‘Menopause: More than just hot flushes’, the average age range for the menopause (when a woman’s periods stop due to lower hormone levels) is 45-55 years old. However, it can happen earlier or later.

To put this into perspective, Jane Hartman-Jemmett CFIOSH, pointed to 2021 data from the Trades Union Congress in her IOSH magazine article ‘Menopause in the workplace’, that shows women aged 45-54 make up 11% of all people in employment and 23% of all women in employment in the UK.


‘Add to this those women in perimenopause, which can start as early as the 30s, and we have a significant proportion of the UK workforce who cannot – and should not be ignored,’ she said.

As Jane notes, menopause and perimenopause (when a woman has menopausal symptoms, but her periods have not stopped due to low hormone levels) symptoms can be physical and psychological. They include everything from low mood, brain fog and anxiety to hot flushes, muscle aches, changes in the body shape and weight gain.

The EHRC’s guidance includes more detailed information on what these symptoms are so employers are better informed and can take measures to protect affected staff, including making reasonable adjustments.

One of the purposes of the new guidance is to raise awareness among employers of the negative experience that women with the menopause can have at work and the wider impact.


The EHRC cites research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) that surveyed more than 2,000 women, aged 40 to 60, who are currently employed in the UK and could be experiencing menopause transition. The CIPD’s report reveals that 67% of respondents said the menopausal symptoms have had a mostly negative impact on them at work.

When asked how the symptoms had affected them negatively in the workplace, 53% said they were able to think of a time when they were unable to go into work due to their symptoms. Two-thirds (67%) reported common symptoms such as mood disturbances, anxiety, memory loss, panic attacks, loss of confidence and reduced concentration.

In some cases, the symptoms can be so severe that women feel unable to continue and leave their employment. The EHRC cites further research by the Fawcett Society that reveals that one in 10 women surveyed who were employed during the menopause had left work due to menopause symptoms.

What’s more, eight in 10 noted that their employer hadn’t shared information, trained staff, or put in place a menopause absence policy.

‘As Britain’s equality watchdog, we are concerned both by how many women report being forced out of a role due to their menopause-related symptoms and how many don’t feel safe enough to request the workplace adjustments,’ says Baroness Kishwer Falkner, chairwoman of the EHRC.

‘An employer understanding their legal duties is the foundation of equality in the workplace. But it is clear that many may not fully understand their responsibility to protect their staff going through the menopause. Our new guidance sets out these legal obligations for employers and provides advice on how they can best support their staff.

‘We hope that this guidance helps ensure every woman going through the menopause is treated fairly and can work in a supportive and safe environment.’


In July 2022 the cross-party Women and Equalities Committee published its Menopause and the workplace report , which put forward 12 recommendations that cover women’s health, menopause in the workplace and legal reform.

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