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Women’s health and well-being in the workplace

Awareness of the importance of providing support for women experiencing symptoms of menopause has been amplified in Europe over the last few years. There is a push to put women’s health to the forefront of the public discourse in recognition of the fact this has certainly not been the case to date. In Ireland, menopause is a key action under the Women’s Health Action Plan 2022-2023, which commits to changing the approach to menopause care in Ireland and to increase public supports available to women before, during, and after menopause.

There is also recognition that women’s health and wellbeing in the workplace at this stage of their life has its challenges. Belinda Steffan a fellow at the University of Edinburgh Business School recently commented “the workplace is generally designed around the ideal worker, unencumbered by physical or domestic needs. The menopausal body does not necessarily fit with that”.

There is an active debate now around how employers can support women in the workplace. Symptoms relating to menstruation, fertility treatment, pregnancy and menopause can have a negative impact on an employee’s overall health which can in turn impact their productivity in the workplace. There has been increased awareness and importance around the various areas of women’s health where employers can provide support to their female employees throughout the various stages in their life – from menstruation, fertility issues and treatment, pregnancy, perimenopause, to menopause. For many women the topic of menopause feels secretive and closed and is not discussed in workplaces. This undoubtedly creates a taboo and stigma which in turn creates an environment where women can feel isolated and unsupported in their workplaces. If employers want to demonstrate that they have an inclusive and supportive work environment, which supports the employee in their various life stages, they need to consider if they can implement relevant polices reflecting this commitment.


The Menopause in the Workplace Policy Framework was launched in Ireland for all civil service organisations in October 2023. It is a recognition of the Government’s desire to make women’s health a top priority and the need to tackle a wide range of issues impacting women’s health in Ireland. The overall aim is to normalise the conversation around menopause and raise awareness as to the impact of menopause on working lives. It is hoped that the Policy will help to promote and create a fully inclusive organisational environment that is supportive of all employees impacted by menopause.

  • In 2022 a Department of Health survey revealed that 82% of adults believe that menopause is not well understood in the workplace. 90% of adults agreed it is important that employers understand menopause better. Just 30% of adults said they would be comfortable talking to their manager about menopause.
  • 35% of women reported experiencing constant symptoms of menopause, therefore, it is crucial that employers address this issue for women in the workplace.

The narrative around this issue over the last 5 years from total silence to a more open debate constitutes a seismic shift. However, there is still a huge variety in how workplaces respond to menopause. We are seeing an increasing number of more progressive clients putting in place Menopause polices. For example, some of our clients have “menopause cafes” where they are invited to chat. However, we do need to be careful of “meno– washing” where employers promote polices but the reality is that the female line manager is hostile. The Menopause Hub, which is Ireland’s first dedicated Menopause Clinic, offers accredited training for managers in workplaces. Not all women will want to talk about menopause in the workplace but may still benefit from policies and procedures in their workplace and will feel less of a sense of isolation when having to deal with medical challenges they may be experiencing and may on occasion require support and understanding from their employer.

No country in Europe provides for statutory menopause leave, but again some employers will provide leave. For example, a large commercial Irish bank, Bank of Ireland offers up to 10 days menopause leave.
There is no legislation specifically dealing with the issue of menopause in Ireland. However, under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 employers have a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare of their employees. While menopause is not considered a hazard in the legislation, the symptoms of menopause (i.e., brain fog, memory issues, fatigue, stress, anxiety, hot flashes menstrual disruption etc.) may have impact on workplace safety, performance and overall comfort. Protection is also afforded under the protected grounds as set out in the Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2021. This legislation provides protections against discrimination in respect of gender, age and disability among others. It also places an onus on employers to provide reasonable accommodation for any employee who has a disability. “Disability” is broadly-defined under the Equality Acts and could, in certain circumstances, include some of the medical symptoms associated by menopause but that said each case will turn on its own facts and menopause in itself is not deemed as yet a disability.

Recent Irish & UK cases on the topic of menopause:

Siobhan McNally v Rotunda Hospital – EDA2148

  • Ms McNally brought discrimination claims against her employer on the grounds of gender and disability alleging victimisation, non-provision of training, failure to provide reasonable accommodation and harassment.
  • Ms McNally claimed she suffered from stress and the effects of the menopause, however, she denied that she had a disability in this case.
  • Ms McNally was retired early from her employment by her employer based on “ill health grounds related to incapacity due to disability”. Ms McNally denied that she had a disability and was certified as fit for work by her GP. The employer did not make attempts to reasonably accommodate her, and she claimed the compulsory retirement was discriminatory on the grounds of an “imputed” disability.
  • The court was satisfied that the employer’s failure to even consider possible reasonable accommodations amounted to direct discrimination and awarded €10,000 compensation.

Maria Rooney v Leicester City Council EA-2020-000070-DA / EA-2021-000256-DA

  • Ms Rooney suffered from menopause symptoms, anxiety & depression and took extended sick leave from her employment which led to her resignation in October 2018.
  • Despite being told the employee was suffering from menopause symptoms, the employer issued a formal warning for absence.
  • The employee also argued she was subject to inappropriate comments about her menopause symptoms.
  • The UK Employment Appeal Tribunal first held that menopause symptoms can amount to a disability for the purposes of the UK Equality Act. The Tribunal held in a preliminary hearing that Ms Rooney was disabled at all material times covered by her claims by virtue of her symptoms.
  • The matter is currently before Leicester Employment Tribunal to hear claims that she was discriminated against, harassed and victimised on the grounds of disability and gender.
  • The employee is supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in bringing her claim. 

Lynskey v Direct Line Insurance Services Ltd

  • Ms Lynskey had good performance ratings throughout her employment but stated she was experiencing menopause symptoms which affected her performance. She was diagnosed with hormone imbalance, depression & low mood and was prescribed medication.
  • The employer began reviewing her performance, ignored medical evidence and moved her to work of lesser value. She did not receive a pay rise as a result.
  • The UK Employment Tribunal upheld many of Ms Lynskey’s claims for disability and failure to make reasonable accommodations. Ms Lynskey’s “brain fog” and struggle to retain information was a result of her
    menopause symptoms. This was recorded in her performance review and the resulting lack of pay rise was as a consequence of her disability.
  • Whilst the complaint was on multiple grounds, the employee succeeded in establishing unfavourable treatment for menopause symptoms and was awarded £65,000 in damages.


There are currently no legislative policies in place which address the issue of menstruation for women in Irish workplaces. In October 2023, Ireland’s largest Trade Unions called on the Government and Irish employers to implement mandatory workplace menstrual and menopausal policies in their ‘Stop the Stigma’ campaign. Their research revealed the following:

  • Menopause and menstruation have a negative impact on the working lives of people who menstruate
  • These health concerns are not taken seriously in many workplaces
  • Several workplaces are ill-equipped to deal with these health concerns
  • A majority of respondents are in favour of implementing a workplace policy that offers a range of supports to help people stay in employment comfortably

The campaign is about creating a more inclusive and supportive work environment for all workers, measures that workplaces could take include:

  • Flexible scheduling options, such as remote work and adjusted hours, to accommodate physical discomfort and fatigue due to periods and menopause.
  • Paid time off for those suffering with severe discomfort and pain.
  • Free menstrual and menopause products in toilets and tailored options upon request.
  • A culture that supports open discussions and understanding of menstruation and menopause”.

It is interesting to note that Spain passed Europe’s first paid menstrual leave law in 2023. The legislation provides 3-5 paid sick leave days per month for employees suffering with incapacitating menstruation.

Fertility Treatment:

14,000 women in Ireland experience pregnancy loss each year. One in six couples experience fertility issues in Ireland.

The Labour Party put forward a Reproductive Health Leave Bill which would provide employees with up to 20 days paid leave in the case of pregnancy loss and 10 days paid leave in order to access fertility treatments like IVF. The Bill passed in the Seanad with Government support in November 2023 and is currently before Dáil Éireann, Second Stage. Commenting on the Bill, Labour Party Leader Ivana Bacik said:

“Right now, we know that women are using up sick leave or annual leave after an early pregnancy loss or to attend fertility treatments. It’s just not right or fair. It’s a hangup from times when women and their experiences were surplus to requirements in the workplace and this needs to change.

Early pregnancy loss, miscarriage or fertility issues remain very painful topics for people, and can be challenging to discuss with friends, family and co-workers. But the introduction of workplace measures for people undergoing such experiences would represent a meaningful step towards opening conversations around reproductive health in workplaces nationwide, and would help to encourage public awareness around reproductive health issues. Ireland must be brave and join New Zealand, India and other countries in providing time off work when it matters most.”

The Government has supported the Bill but has opted to delay considering it by another 12 months.

Domestic Violence Leave:

Ireland introduced 5 days paid Domestic Violence Leave in 2023 under the Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2023. Ireland was one of the first countries in the EU to do so with Italy, Spain and Northern Ireland also passing similar legislation relating to domestic violence and workplace protections.

The Act defines ‘domestic violence’ as “violence, or threat of violence, including sexual violence and acts of coercive control” committed against an employee or a relevant person by another person to include a spouse or intimate partner.

The introduction of domestic violence leave in Ireland is a recognition of the fact that employers are becoming increasingly aware that it is an issue which directly impacts employees’ participation in the workplace and employees need support in this regard. Women’s Aid recently carried out a survey which resulted in some very important statistics:

  • 37% – More than 1 in 3 working people surveyed across multiple industries and at varying levels of seniority have experienced domestic abuse
  • 94% – Almost all employees who are subjected to domestic abuse report an impact on their work performance
  • Many women are prevented from working, forced to work part-time or take sick leave, or become ill, stressed or lose confidence as a result of the abuse. Some ultimately cease working.

The leave is intended to facilitate and support employees who are victims of such abuse to seek medical attention, help from victim services organisations, undergo counselling, obtain a court order, relocate, take legal advice, or seek assistance from the Gardaí. The entitlement includes the right to take domestic violence leave for the purposes of assisting a ‘relevant person’ in the seeking of any of these supports. Relevant person can be a spouse/civil partner, a dependent child/person or a co-habitant. Employees can avail of this leave from their first day of employment and it is payable by the employer at the employee’s full rate of pay. In light of the statutory entitlement to leave, employers are including Domestic violence polices in their updated handbook. This represents an opening of the debate, which can only be a good thing as violence of this nature, thrives in silence if unchallenged.