ISU Guidance for Members on approaching or experiencing the Menopause

What is the Menopause/Menopause transition?

What is often debilitating and stressful and will affect more than half the workforce?

At its simplest the Menopause is a hormonal change that occurs, usually between the ages of 45 and 55, in women or individuals with the XX genome for gender which marks the end of a woman’s reproductive cycle.

Whilst it primarily affects women in the age range of 45 to 55 it can occur naturally, or be medically induced at an earlier age and can also occur later in a woman’s life – approximately 1 in 100 women will experience the menopause transition before the age of 40.

Prior to the Menopause transition occurring women enter a phase known as the perimenopause – this is when their hormone levels begin the change and can occur as early as their twenties up to their 40’s. Symptoms of the Perimenopause are difficult to attribute as they vary widely, ranging from weight gain, mood swings, disturbed sleep, night sweats and hot flushes to dryness of the skin. Many of these symptoms mirror the common symptoms seen by women experiencing the menopause transition.

What are the common expressions/symptoms?

Common symptoms experienced by women undergoing the menopause transition are:

  • Mood disturbances
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Panic attacks
  • Reduced concentration
  • Hot flushes and night sweats
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Muscle and joint stiffness
  • General aches and pains
  • Urinary tract infections including cystitis
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Weight gain
  • Palpitations – heart rate accelerates and can be felt by the individual

There are a wide range of symptoms and it’s not an exhaustive list – some women may experience completely different symptoms from those listed above, others may experience only a few or all of them.

Any of these symptoms can have a considerable impact upon our members undertaking their jobs – especially when front line operational delivery roles require shift working and unsocial hours – all of which can exacerbate these symptoms. Members on the front line taking part in law enforcement activities both in country and at the border have to process a large amount of information at any one time – and reduced sleep or reduced concentration can have negative impacts upon their ability to carry out activities if no reasonable adjustments are made to minimise the impact.

These are long-term symptoms which a woman may experience for prolonged periods of time, in some cases for years. As such they have a considerable impact upon a woman’s life whilst experiencing the menopause transition and potentially a considerable impact upon their performance and attendance at work.

What is the current situation for members?

With integrated teams, long hours and a stressful environment the potential impacts of the Menopause on an individual and their work mean that the symptoms and repercussions must not be ignored.

Currently there is no overall cohesive strategy or approach across the Home Office, Border Force or Immigration Enforcement on the menopause. Treatment varies depending upon the individual line management chain and work locations.

Work locations where there is greater flexibility of attendance – usually non-operational roles which include home and flexible working-  allow the most opportunity for women experiencing the menopause transition to attend later if they have suffered from a broken night’s sleep: For those on front line operational duties opportunities for home working are non-existent for the majority of our membership.

The Home Office does have a policy document – Menopause in the workplace, Managers guide to supporting employees dated May 2018.

However, this document is based upon a number of assumptions – including that regular monthly performance 1-2-1 conversations are taking place, and reminding employees to get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly and eat plenty of fruit has little to no impact upon staff needing management support. It also includes recommendations to consider an OHS referral and signposting Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for women experiencing mood swings during the menopause transition.

It covers provision of alternative uniform (trials were conducted on Menopause shirts for women last year) although permission needs to be sought from within the line management chain and reasonable adjustments to uniform policy to offer an exemption form wearing of ties. This, again, can vary at different locations.

What can we do to help?

We are here to support you, and we realise that seeking help may in itself be difficult.

If you are experiencing the menopause and are finding that work isn’t making the adjustments you need, or that you are falling victim to overzealous attendance management or anything that’s making your work life difficult, speak to a  rep and we will push to make work bearable.

As a trade union we hold a moral imperative to ensure we are looking after our members, and ensure that they are treated fairly, which is why the NEC in 2019 adopted a Menopause strategy to ensure our members are receiving the support they need.

The employer holds a duty of care under Health & Safety laws. The employer must ensure the Health & Safety of all of their employees: This includes conducting risk assessments not just on work activities but also groups of workers at particular risk – this would reasonably include women experiencing the menopausal transition who may present specific risks such as sleep deprivation and panic attacks.

There is also a potential duty under the Equality Act 2010 – since the menopause transition only affects women (see explanation on wider definitions within what is the menopause section) and detrimental treatment of a woman experiencing the menopause transition could be classified as either direct or indirect discrimination under the Act.

Also covered by the Equality Act 2010 – if the symptoms experienced by a woman undergoing the menopause transition are having a significant impact upon their ability to carry out day activities over a substantial time (normally 12 months +)- then the woman may be protected under sections on disability within the Act.

Current case law resides with Merchant v BT plc 2012, where the tribunal upheld the employee’s claim of direct sex discrimination when her employer failed to deal with her menopause symptoms in the same way that it would have dealt with other medical conditions. Subsequently in 2018 another case found that the employer had discriminated against the employee on the grounds of disability.