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This October, alongside the International Menopause Society and World Health Organisation, we’re calling for more open conversation and action when it comes to the menopause.
Tracey* had worked hard as a social worker for over eighteen years. Her record was unblemished – she’d had only a handful of sick days and had always been an exemplary employee.
But then, as she turned 50, her menopause symptoms hit.
Besides from the hot flushes and brain fog, she was crippled with paralysing anxiety, heart palpitations that lasted for hours and debilitating fatigue, too. On one occasion, she collapsed at work as a result of her symptoms and came too on the floor with her head bleeding.
Rather than offering her the support she clearly needed, Tracey’s bosses fired her. “There was no sympathy or understanding,” she explains.
Menopause and job loss:
Sadly, Tracey is far from alone, and the number of women being unfairly dismissed because of their menopausal symptoms seems to be on the rise.
This month marks World Menopause Awareness month, an entire month nominated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Menopause Society to address the stigma and prejudice many menopausal women still face.
It’s simply not good enough, and more must be done to ensure women, menopausal or not, aren’t discriminated upon because of a perfectly natural health phenomena all women experience. According to data from the HM Courts and Tribunals, the number of employment tribunals involving menopause has quadrupled in the last three years.
Since February 2017, there have been 43 employment tribunals involving menopause, with almost a quarter of those coming in the first six months of this year.
So are women being unfairly and disproportionately affected in later life as a result of their menopause symptoms? And is it impacting their career paths?
Short answer: yes.
Why is the number of menopause tribunals on the rise?
What do you reckon happens when said symptoms – most notably hot flushes, low mood, night sweats and brain fog – affect your day-to-day life so much you can’t work? And why are the numbers of tribunals involving menopause on the rise?
According to Dee Murray, CEO and founder of Menopause Experts Group, it’s because women are being actively encouraged to speak their minds and empowered to voice their concerns.
“There has been a dramatic increase in awareness of women’s issues in recent years since the #MeToo campaign,” she explains. “Celebrities like Ulrika Jonsson, Andrea McLean and Davina McCall have come forward to talk candidly about their experience of menopause, and women want and expect more from life.”
What is the current UK law around menopause and job dismissal?
In short, any form of discrimination falls under the Equality Act of 2010. “This makes it illegal to discriminate against people based on their sex or disability,” explains Murray.
Sadly, she points out that despite the law, many workplaces policies are lagging behind when it comes to menopause. “Current campaigners are calling for women with menopausal symptoms to get similar protection to pregnant women,” she continues.
Does this put women at a disadvantage to men?
The symptoms of menopause themselves put women at a huge disadvantage to men, reckons Murray.
“For many women, they can be debilitating,” she explains. “In most workplaces, ignorance of both the menopause and perimenopause symptoms means there is little sympathy or empathy for what women are going through, making work challenging.”
My menopause symptoms are affecting my ability to work. What do I do?
1. Don’t be scared
Firstly, Murray wants you to hear this: don’t be frightened. “Our bodies are incredible, and if you give them all they need, you’re winning half of the battle already.”
These won’t get rid of your menopause symptoms, but they can sure help with making sure what you experience isn’t as severe.
2. Read up
Educating yourself about your own biology is one of the easiest ways to protect yourself, shares Murray, as if you’re clued up and waiting for something to happen, it doesn’t come as such a surprise. “By-and-large, it comes down to knowledge and being well-equipped for what’s coming,” she shares.
FYI, she further highlights that often, women find the emotional or psychological symptoms of menopause the most challenging. Arming yourself with the relevant stats and information may help ease this stress.
3. Be prepared
As with anything in life, preparation is key. “We all go through the menopause – there is no escaping it, so it’s important to learn more about it and your body,” Murray shares.
Sites like the Menopause Expert Group are well equipped to help inform you.
‘I was fired because of my menopause symptoms: sadly, it’s more common than you think.’
Tracey* was a social worker for more than 18 years and had an unblemished record before menopausal symptoms hit her hard. Read her story here.
“In 2018, I was fired from my job as a social worker. I was suffering perimenopausal symptoms that were disabling, but my bosses decided that wasn’t a good enough excuse.”
“I had informed my manager the year before that I was struggling. No one told me that the menopause wasn’t just hot flushes and brain fog. I was suffering paralysing anxiety. I ached, had palpitations that lasted hours and felt enormous fatigue.”
“I couldn’t eat. I lost two stone in weight. When I went to the doctor, they prescribed antidepressants, which made things worse. I even saw a heart specialist – but no one mentioned the menopause.”
“My boss said to take the time I needed, but soon after, put me on a performance improvement plan. It was another set of hoops for me to jump through. There was no sympathy and no understanding.”
“I told my boss on numerous occasions that I wasn’t coping and that disciplinary procedures were making my symptoms worse. My manager knew of my vulnerability and, in my opinion, used it to his advantage. My employers did know about the menopause but chose to ignore it, placing me under more pressure, which exacerbated my symptoms.”
“It had been going on for about a year before I realised, through doing my own research, that this was the menopause. It was such a relief: I had thought I was going mad.”
“During that time, I kept having these disciplinary meetings at work and during one of these meetings, completely out of the blue, they announced I was fired.”
“I was in total shock. I felt like a criminal. I walked straight out of the meeting and went to bed. I couldn’t get up for weeks.”
“Then I began to get angry. I just felt it was so unjust, how I’d been treated. I was being punished for having problems around a woman’s transition. I also thought there were lots of implications for other women going through the same thing.”
“I decided to take them to a tribunal. I paid £12,000 for a barrister but I didn’t stand a chance. The tribunal judge, a man in his 60s, completely dismissed all mention of the menopause. He didn’t understand the menopause, and it was inappropriate for him to decide over a medical matter as he is not a doctor.”
“My bosses didn’t turn up to the hearing and so their claims couldn’t be challenged. The judge just saw that I was behind in my work and backed my bosses, corroborating their behaviour. Now they have carte blanche to carry on the same way with other women in the same position. I’m left feeling like I’ve been punished twice.”
“I don’t know what I’m going to do now. I’m on yet another version of HRT – my fifth type – and it’s finally working well. If I’d felt this well while I was employed, I’d never have let them get away with what they did.”
“There needs to be more understanding and a more inclusive approach towards women in the workplace.”