By Mark Carey
The next frontier in the expansion of employment rights is the area of peri-and-post menopause. On June 1, 2023, Bank of America published a study entitled Break Through the Stigma: Menopause in the Workplace. The report surveyed 2,000 female workers and 500 benefit managers on menopause and its impacts in the workplace. The study concluded employers need to embrace this important employment issue and provide more benefits for women experiencing peri-and-post menopause, regardless of what state and federal law provide. In 2021, “the Mayo Clinic estimated that about 10% of women ages 45 to 60 had taken time off in the last year in the United States because of menopause symptoms, costing employers about $1.8 billion. (Source) In addition, the May Clinic also estimated increased cost of medical care in amount of $26.6 billion.
There should be an expansion in employment rights for women going through this period of life, beyond what the Courts and federal and state law have already provided (age and sex discrimination laws). Employers need to create a “menopause-friendly” workplace and not wait for the law to catch up to current events. The percentage of working women in the U.S. who currently experience peri-and-post menopause has sky rocked to the point that today employers realize they need to implement changes in the work environment to accommodate this important group of employees or else risk them quitting. According to U.S. census data, there are more than 15 million working women ages 45 to 60 in the peri-and-post menopause phase of life, and employers are increasingly responding to their needs as a cohort and driven by profit needs.
Claire Gill, founder, National Menopause Foundation, stated “Women should not be embarrassed about the menopausal symptoms they experience, or fear being discriminated against in the workplace because of them.” You can read about the 34 Symptoms of Menopause Here. There is a great website for The North American Menopause Society at menopause.org.
The BOA Study Findings in a Snapshot
The BOA study revealed significant findings about the perception and need for menopause-specific benefits in the workplace. Key highlights from the report include:
1. Impact on Work Life: Half of the peri-and post-menopausal women surveyed reported that menopause negatively impacted their work life. Despite this, only 14% believe their employers recognize the need for menopause-specific benefits.
2. Communication Gap: There is a notable disconnect between employers and female employees. While 76% of HR benefit managers claim to discuss menopause with employees, only 3% of female employees reporting having such conversations with HR. Moveover, 71% of employers believe they have a positive company culture regarding menopause, but only 32% of women employees agree.
3. Desire for Menopause-Specific Benefits: Approximately 64% of women expressed a desire for menopause-specific benefits. These benefits can significantly impact the workplace environment, with 58% of women reporting a positive impact on their work when such benefits are offered. This includes making them feel more comfortable discussing menopause at work and increasing their inclination to recommend their employer as a great place to work.
Employers can provide their employees access to menopause treatment such as providing virtual appointments to receive menopause care through companies such as Maven, Midday, and Peppy Health. Nvidia, an employer with an estimated 13,000 employees, now offers employees access to Peppy Health based on the success of the service with the company’s British offices. Bristol Myers Squibb has begun setting up an menopause support intranet network for its U.S. based employees. Other companies now offering menopause friendly workplaces include Bank of America, Adobe, and Genentech.
4. Stigma and Discomfort: The majority of women (60%) feel that menopause is stigmatized, and 58% are uncomfortable discussing their menopausal symptoms at work. Common concerns include fear of being perceived as old (32%), embarrassment about discussing their bodies (28%), not wanting to be treated differently (23%), and fear of losing respect from male peers (18%).
Create a Menopause Friendly Work Environment
Employers should implement a “menopause policy that clearly lays out what support employees can expect to receive during menopause. It ensures all employees understand what workplace adjustments and support systems are available to them, so they feel empowered to ask questions.“ (Source) Such menopause friendly benefits can include flexibility of work from home arrangements, shorter workweeks, access to fans and good ventilation, ability to control office temperature, clean facilities, tampons and pads in the bathroom and a quiet rest area.
Employers can also develop office dialogue about menopause and encourage all employees to embrace this major life circumstance for working women. Cynthia Hutchins, Director of Financial Gerontology, BOA, stated, “creating an open dialogue on menopause in the workplace is imperative to correcting any misconceptions about women experiencing this life stage. It can start with something as foundational as creating a policy about menopause and then communicate, communicate, communicate! Just hearing menopause talked about in the workplace can go a long way toward creating a more positive work environment for all.”
Managers Must be Prepared to Talk the Talk
According to the website Peppy, the following suggestions are recommended when a manager wants to have a conversation with an employee about menopause:
· Ask simple, non-judgmental questions
· Avoid judgmental or patronizing responses
· Speak calmly and maintain good eye contact
· Give the employee ample opportunity to explain the situation in their own words
· Focus on the person not the problem
· Show empathy and understanding
· Encourage the employee to talk
· Listen actively and carefully.
Federal Agency (EEOC.gov) Has Not Issued Guidance on Menopause
Research on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC.gov) website for the term “menopause” revealed no hits or information for employees and employers. The EEOC is “the” federal agency charged with enforcing employment statutes has yet to issue any guidance on menopause friendly workplaces, unlike the United Kingdom which has. See Here.
Menopause Discrimination is Significant Yet Unprotected
Many women experience menopause discrimination often stemming from a lack of awareness and understanding among employers and colleagues. The experiences and surveys highlight the challenges faced by women going through menopause at work. Many women experience changes in mood, concentration, and other symptoms affecting their work performance during menopause. However, due to societal stigmas and misconceptions about menopause, even among women themselves, these symptoms are often not openly discussed or supported in the workplace. This leads to discrimination and fear of ageism and sex discrimination.
There are very few court cases covering menopause discrimination, as state and federal laws do not specifically protect women against this uniquely female form of employment discrimination. Women who have brought legal cases that reveal their employers have referred to an employee as “la menopausica” (the menopausal one), or to an employee working in a building as “Menopause Mannor”. These two cases were dismissed. However, in another case the employer stated, “just some black women going through menopause” was enough to decide the case in favor of the employee experiencing menopause. (Bailey v. Henderson, USDC, District of Columbia, 2000). In a famous case, Coleman v. Bobby Dodd Institute, Inc., the lower court ruled in favor of the employer who fired a female employee who soiled company property due to a heavy, erratic menstruation related to perimenopause. In a recent 2015 decision (Mesias v. Cravath, Swaine & Moore, LLP) from a New York federal court, the court held a supervisor’s statement that he was “tired of working with menopausal women” was not enough to save a female employee’s age and sex discrimination claim, even though it was connected to the context of the termination.
If you would like more information on this topic, please contact our employment attorneys at Carey & Associates, P.C. at 203-255-4150 or at email@example.com.