Menopause – an occupational issue of growing importance

19 May 2016

Older women officers often feel discriminated against, isolated and vulnerable at work, delegates heard at our annual conference today, at a session called 'The Older Workforce'.

Dee Collins, West Yorkshire Temporary Chief Constable, said the problem was particularly prevalent among those going through the menopause, which she stated “is an occupational issue of growing importance.” She continued: “It is one of the last unmanaged health taboos. Many colleagues feel isolated and vulnerable and it can affect women of all ages – I am aware of one officer who experienced it at the age of 27. It needs to be taken seriously now.”

Ms Collins said that 13 million women in the UK are currently going through the menopause - 72% felt unsupported at work, seven out of ten experienced debilitating symptoms and 50% hadn’t confided in their line manager. Sufferers face increased risks of disciplinary and absence procedures, and are often distressed because their coping mechanisms can be affected so can be susceptible to issues like depression. In return, forces and managers aren’t really coping either and are poor at dealing with the issue Ms Collins said.

While there is legislation to cover discrimination issues, it is vital that forces gripped the problem and moved it further up their agenda. “An ageing workforce brings significant benefits, including significant knowledge, experience and commitment, and that should be recognised,” she said.

Jayne Willetts, the Federation’s equality lead, highlighted the 106 employment tribunal claims for disability discrimination the Federation has received over the past 12 months – which does not include the “hundreds and hundreds more contacts and requests for advice” which are resolved before reaching a claims stage. In addition there are 16 other claims for age discrimination.

And things are likely to get worse because of the ageing workforce and changes in pension legislation which mean officers need to work longer before retirement, which in turn means more officers coping with disabilities at work. “The last thing we want to do is put an officer through an employment tribunal” she said. “But I think sometimes there is no alternative and we are going to be faced with more of these in the future.”

The Federation's legal team Jonathan Keighley and Laura-Jane Fowler also urged federation reps to consider the implications of the menopause when considering discrimination legislation. Mrs Fowler said: "An officer may be able to pass the bleep test, but it doesn’t mean they aren't disabled somehow. In other words don’t write off making a claim just because they can run well.”

Ms Willetts called for forces to do much more in making reasonable adjustments for an older workforce. “There is little or no understanding from management of how to manage and support these officers. There is limited or no training available on this, and limited or no occupational health or welfare support. And with the age of officers now increasing and the earliest retirement for most in the future to be 55 years old, it is vital that these areas are tackled. How can we be getting this so wrong?”

Jamie Mills, General Secretary of the Disabled Police Association, also highlighted the lack of reasonable alternatives for the fitness test. While the pass rate is 98% nationally, the last available figures showed that 33,000 officers had not taken the test. “The figures do not record those who are excluded due to health and disability,” he said. “Therefore we cannot have a clear picture whether the fitness test is fit for purpose.”