7th December 2020

Diversity in 2020 and beyond

We look at two areas, miscarriage and menopause, which have in the past been regarded as taboo subjects but which are now being recognised as serious issues which need to be addressed in the workplace.

We look at two areas, miscarriage and menopause, which have in the past been regarded as taboo subjects but which are now being recognised as serious issues which need to be addressed in the workplace.

 Miscarriage

Recently the Duchess of Sussex has disclosed to the media that she and Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, have, like 250,000 others in the UK each year, suffered the pain and grief of a miscarriage.

The Duchess has been praised for highlighting what is often perceived as a taboo subject and is often concealed by employees making it difficult for employers to offer appropriate support.

So, what is the law around miscarriage and the workplace?

From 6 April 2020 all employees and paid office holders have had the right to one or two weeks of statutory bereavement leave in respect of the loss of a child under the age of 18 (including stillbirth’s after 24 weeks of pregnancy). However, many employees would be ineligible for this as whilst around 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, this mostly occurs in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Employers would therefore need to be supportive of any time off requirements under their sickness absence schemes and avoid discriminatory treatment on the grounds of pregnancy by making adjustments for any pregnancy or miscarriage related absence in any absence management, capability, and redundancy procedures.

However, appropriately addressing miscarriage in the workplace can be challenging, and you may wish to take advice and ensure that you understand best practice.

Menopause

Another of the last taboos is menopause. Despite a growing number of working age women going through the perimenopause/menopause, it is still relatively undiscussed, unsupported, and yet it could potentially give rise to discrimination claims.

Avoiding discrimination claims related to the menopause

Whilst sometimes colloquially referred to an issue for “women of a certain age”, as it often occurs in women during their 40s and 50s, the onset of the menopause can vary in terms of age and 1 in 20 women suffer from early menopause. In the last few years, successful Tribunal claims have been brought on the grounds of age and sex, sex (Merchant vs BT) and disability (Davies v Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service).

It may be surprising that menopause could be branded a disability but when you break down the Equality Act definition it could be easier to understand:

a) Perimenopause and menopause can cause physical and/or mental impairments which may include:

- difficulty sleeping and night sweats
- feeling tired and lacking energy
- mood swings
- feeling anxious and panic attacks
- hot flushes
- struggling to remember things, concentrate and focus
- taking longer to recover from illness
- irregular periods which can become heavier
- aches and pains including muscle and joint stiffness
- urinary problems
- headaches including migraines
- putting on weight
- noticeable heartbeats
- skin irritation
- dry eyes

b) the peri-menopause/menopause can span over years (often between 4 and 12 years) and therefore be ‘long term’;

c) for some people the impact can be substantial and it can lead to suffering from stress, anxiety and depression; and

d) it can detrimentally impact workers’ ability to carry out normal day to day activities


For more information, contact the Thrings Employment team.
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