New UK ‘menopause taskforce’ set to examine workplace culture

Out-Law News | 09 Feb 2022 | 12:56 pm | 2 min. read

A new specialist team of ministers and medical experts will tackle taboos and stigmas surrounding the menopause in the workplace, according to the UK government.

Speaking at the inaugural meeting of the ‘menopause taskforce’ last week, co-chair Carolyn Harris MP said the group had been established to ensure that clinical evidence underpinned all aspects of menopause policy and to encourage open conversations about the menopause among the general public, within healthcare settings, and in workplaces.

Millions of women go through the menopause every year, with the majority experiencing symptoms that can be severe – such as low mood, anxiety, hot flushes and difficulty sleeping – and have a negative impact on their everyday life.

The announcement comes as the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) launched a consultation into the reclassification of a locally applied HRT product, Gina, which would allow women in the UK to access the menopausal treatment without requiring a prescription.

Zoe Betts, health and safety expert at Pinsent Masons, said: “Under UK health and safety law, employers have a duty to provide working environments which have adequate arrangements and facilities for welfare. In addition, they have a duty to conduct suitable and sufficient risk assessments which includes identifying groups of workers who might be particularly at risk. 

“Taking these duties together, employers must bear in mind the physical and mental effects of the menopause to ensure the working conditions are not exacerbating any symptoms and that any reasonable adjustments in the workplace may be made,” Betts added.

But research conducted by People Management of women with menopausal symptoms found that a fifth (18%) reported feeling under pressure to leave their jobs because of a lack of support and a workplace culture that leaves women feeling unable to discuss the issue with colleagues. Many have reported discrimination, including inappropriate and offensive comments and missing out on pay or promotions, because they were perceived to be going through the menopause - regardless of whether they are experiencing symptoms.

Kate Dodd, employment expert at Pinsent Masons, called for companies to take the lead on improving conditions for women with menopausal symptoms. She said: “The symptoms of the menopause are not just physical. Employers might think ‘oh it's just a hot flush, we'll give somebody a desk fan, and that will deal with it’ – but what we know about the menopause is it creates all sorts of hormonal imbalances and can lead to crushing anxiety, and huge loss of confidence too.”

“Employers should not wait for a change to legislation to take steps to introduce a menopause policy and make it easier for women to reach out for help. There’s a huge taboo that exists around this, so designing a policy and creating guidance for managers to understand how to apply it is absolutely fantastic. If you can set up a menopause support group to bring people together to talk about this, then that really is part of best practice too,” Dodd added.

The MHRA consultation, which closes at midday on 23 February 2022, seeks views on making Gina available over the counter to women aged 50 years and above, who have not had a period for at least one year.