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Workplace menopause advice from lawyer Emma Hammond

Emma Hammond is a lawyer with gunnercooke LLP specialising in employment law. Often assuming the role of Investigating or Grievance Officer, Emma leads enquiries into complex bullying, harassment and discrimination complaints for individuals and organisations. Emma has an interest in mental health and its impact on the workplace and she incorporates as much pro bono work into her practice as possible, specialising in advising women who have suffered discrimination due to the menopause.

In this episode, Emma chats to Dr Louise Newson about the effects of the menopause at work, the intricacies of legal protections for women suffering professionally because of menopausal symptoms, and they discuss some positive examples of working in a menopause confident organisation.

Read more about Emma Hammond here.

Episode transcript:

Dr Louise Newson [00:00:09] Hello, I’m Dr Louise Newson and welcome to my podcast. I’m a GP and menopause specialist and I run the Newson Health Menopause and Wellbeing Centre here in Stratford upon Avon. I’m also the founder of the Menopause charity and the menopause support app called Balance. On the podcast, I will be joined each week by an exciting guest to help provide evidence-based information and advice about both the perimenopause and the menopause. On the podcast today, we’re going to talk about something that is very, very common, actually, about the effects of menopause and perimenopause in the workplace. So I’ve got with me Emma Hammond, who I’ve known for a little while now, actually, who’s a lawyer and doing a huge amount of work in this area. So welcome, Emma, today.

Emma Hammond [00:01:03] Thank you Louise.

Dr Louise Newson [00:01:04] So, a few years ago, if I’d met you maybe ten, 15 years ago, how different is your job now to how it would have been 15 years ago? And if I’d said to you the word menopause, what would it have conjured up 15 years ago?

Emma Hammond [00:01:18] That’s a really good question. So 15 years ago, let me do the maths… I was 37, so I knew about the menopause from my mum. I knew that she started around the age of 50 by fainting in the office.

Dr Louise Newson [00:01:32] Gosh.

Emma Hammond [00:01:32] That was her first indication. And I was asking questions then around when it happened to her to think when it might happen to me. I’d only had my first child at 36, so was very much in the new mum phase rather than thinking about what hormones may do to me regarding the perimenopause. But work wise, absolutely nothing happening that gave me an indication that women were experiencing issues in the workplace around menopause and perhaps being treated differently.

Dr Louise Newson [00:02:01] Yeah, which is interesting because if I’d met you, I would have been in a similar age. We’re very similar ages. So in my late thirties, I didn’t even know – I didn’t really think about symptoms. And the only symptoms I was really taught about was about hot flushes and sweats. But it’s more about night sweats. So I think well, that’s night time symptoms, actually. So I hadn’t really thought about it either. It’s quite something, isn’t it? And I think now it is spoken about more, which is great, but there are still, and I’ve read a lot of journalists saying, oh, women just need to sort themselves out. They just need to… they need to stop complaining. Are we going to be looking after people now who’ve got ginger hair or people who have got other, you know, problems for goodness’ sake? It happens to all. It’s just a natural transition. And then I also speak to other women who say, “well, I’m menopausal now, so I can’t go for job promotion or I need to move differently in my career, I need to reduce my hours. And that’s fine because I’m menopausal.” It’s all a bit wrong.

Emma Hammond [00:03:02] It is. And I think what I found – so when I joined gunnercooke, my working life has changed significantly in the last six years. And in fact, I joined this firm to assist myself in managing my menopause and my migraines, particularly, something I knew about.  And so kind of my own journey has led to me looking into how I can help others because typically, working as a lawyer in a private practice environment is pretty tough. And lots of women I know stopped fee earning because they couldn’t balance it with being a mother and latterly being a carer perhaps, and also managing menopause. So all those things have led to a gender imbalance at partner level. And it was something I was asking myself so can I continue to fee earn with all the demands I’ve got at home. And so an opportunity came up in gunnercooke. And just to explain a little bit about the firm because it does impact on how I work now in the menopause arena as well. The idea is it’s very philanthropic in its set up and we’re all encouraged as lawyers to give back. So I’ll talk about that again in a minute in relation to the menopause, but particularly the set up is like a barrister’s chambers. So we’re very much encouraged to be business people as well as lawyers. We fee earn in such a way that it’s fee sharing with the firm. We manage our own business without chargeable targets. So when you then look at the gender balance, I find it fascinating, we’ve now got 300 partners and we’re almost 50/50 split. That’s almost unheard of in a law firm. And it goes to show that what women need is flexibility and ownership over their own businesses to be able to work how they want and how they need. So I’ve had various challenges, one of which was when my eldest son was diagnosed as epileptic and I had to take some time off work and the firm was incredible in just allowing other colleagues to take my work off me and for me to concentrate on his health. No sickness absence obviously, because I work for myself. But the wellbeing support was phenomenal and that’s now translated into the menopause, into all of the women that we have in our workplace, many of whom are 40 plus, a lot are managing all of these things within a fantastically thriving practice, which is how it should be. And it’s so refreshing to see that I can do the job I love in a way that works with my health. And there’s no shame in it. In fact, one time I had some bereavements in the family and the owner of the business and co-founder actively rang me to find out that I was okay, because they heard about it through other colleagues and said, “you’re working too hard, what can we do to help you?” Now that again, it probably happens in some law firms in traditional law firms, but I think it’s pretty unusual. And so there’s a fantastic kind of collegiate atmosphere which encourages people to create a life around the law rather than the law dictating the life that you lead.

Dr Louise Newson [00:06:01] That’s so incredible and actually very unusual for professions or any careers, actually. And I have got three children and people know my husband’s a surgeon and I don’t rely on him. I’ve never relied on him for childcare, but I don’t have my family close. So it’s always been really difficult. And I’ve actually always, up until now, chosen to work part time because I can be there. I can go to Harvest Festivals , I could pick the children up from school, which is great. But then in the holidays I needed to be part time. So it was just easier and cheaper actually, because it’s very expensive, isn’t it, when you’ve got more than one, especially more than one child, looking at childcare. But then I’ve always wanted to work longer in the term less in the holidays. And then, you know, if I have migraines and I can’t go to work, I’m very happy to put that time back. I think flexibility in an organization, actually you get so much more out of your staff because if I go to work with a migraine, I might as well just not bother because I can’t speak. I slur my words, I can’t think, well, you know, you have migraines as well, whereas if I have to go off sick, I feel like I’m a real failure. Then I know I’m putting on my colleagues and it has such a ripple effect. But this isn’t just about for women actually, is it? This is for men as well. Having a flexible workforce is really important ‘cause we’ve all got challenges either they’re personal or family or other things. And there are times aren’t there, where flexibility is key to keep people working.

Emma Hammond [00:07:27] That’s it. And I think that was recognised in the set up of this firm. Darryl Cooke, who founded the firm, he was committed to trying to move to a place where he was so disheartened by how many unhappy lawyers he was meeting. He wanted to create a firm where lawyers were literally just very simply happier with what they were doing with their lives, with their work. And to that end, on the philanthropic point that I mentioned earlier, he’s hugely encouraging on us all giving back. We have Inspire, which is a part of our business which is linked to charities. We help lots and lots of charities and all of our lawyers who want to assist with these charities are put in for free. So again, pro-bono element to the work so that we can help the charities thrive. And that’s kind of led me to my menopause work because historically I did a lot of work in the mental health arena, I was on the steering group of Leeds Mind, part of the Mind charity and I helped to set up conferences in the city around the benefits of working for mental health. And I did that for the tenure of four years, that was the typical period. And then thought what else can I do? And I was a school governor at my son’s school for a while, but it wasn’t giving me what I needed in relation to the kind of employment law aspect all the time… well, there’s some of it touched on that. And then I came to helping people with menopause discrimination issues at work, quite by chance, really. It was almost at the same time I started my own menopause journey, a couple of people were referred to me and in fact a couple of queries through you as well, and suddenly thought, hang on a minute, this works well given that the Leeds Mind work has dried up and it fits with what I’m going through, so I can very much empathise with these issues and of course at the time, I think you and I discussed the tribunals were starting to come through linked to menopause. I’d never seen that in my career before until about what must be some five, six years ago now. And it showed that obviously women are starting to break down that last taboo – with mental health I think being the one beforehand, particularly in the workplace – and realise they have rights and start to take advice. So it was then that I began to be committed to opening up that as my pro-bono practice and talking about it a little bit more, gaining momentum. And so that’s where I’ve got to today and it’s been fascinating to kind of follow that journey to help people through. And I know you’ve seen some of the commentary of how that changed people’s lives and it’s a wonderful thing to be able to be involved in although still very sad that people are experiencing this. But again, with all the other workplace challenges and all the challenges around managing menopause, kind of not surprising.

Dr Louise Newson [00:10:15] Yes, and talking earlier about how ignorant I was in the true sense of the word, not knowing about the menopause and the impact on workplace, about seven years ago, I did a year’s work, very privileged, working with West Midlands Police, second largest police force. And I went there and they really thought that I would be going to help them with their policies and their sort of HR really, and to help them with reduced hours and flexible working, whatever. Well, I’m not that sort of person. I’m a clinician, as you know. So I said to them, “look, all I can do is talk to you about the menopause, what it is, what it means, what the symptoms are, what the treatments are, how to look after yourself.” And I went to the first meeting, and there were lovely, lovely people there, but they were telling me how they were looking forward to retiring age 50, how they couldn’t take their grandchildren to the park because their joints were so stiff, they couldn’t put them on the swings. How they were going home and just collapsing on the sofa, how they couldn’t go and work on the beat anymore because walking was really difficult. So they would just, had a sedentary office job, they had put on weight. They were feeling really tired. Their brain wasn’t working. We did this big survey and we found that the top three symptoms affecting people in the workplace were anxiety, memory problems and fatigue. Yet most of them, 78%, when directly questioned, didn’t know that those symptoms could be related to their menopause, yet they were menopausal women. And okay, seven years ago we weren’t talking as much about the menopause then and also the majority of them had been signed off work when they had had time off work, they’d been signed off with depression, anxiety, migraines, never a mention of the word menopause, even if they’d gone to their healthcare practitioner saying, you know, “I think it’s the menopause”. So they were there saying, “well this is my bag”, “this is me”. And I just thought, goodness, this is awful. I had no idea, no idea what was going on. And so then now it’s almost gone the other way, because I think a lot of organisations are writing policies, they’re giving this ‘assisted workplace’ or they’re reducing hours, which in my mind means reduced pay, but that’s actually not always that helpful either. So tell me about some of the people that you’ve seen and helped Emma?

Emma Hammond [00:12:33] Yeah. So, one of the biggest kind of negative reactions I’m seeing from employers is that they seem to lean towards performance management when they see symptoms, particularly like brain fog. Fatigue clearly affects performance concentration, insomnia and anxiety. All the things you just mentioned are classically for people, particularly working in professional jobs, sedentary desk based jobs where concentration is key for long periods of time. The ladies come to me with very much fear factor over losing their job and saying to me “I’m being performance managed”. But in particularly one recent case, “I’ve owned up, I’ve got early menopause because of some health issues” – so this particular lady was in her thirties – “and I’ve had an occupational health report which says, Yes, this is to do with menopause. I need a specific temporary change to my working conditions as set out in the Occupational Health report”, for example, some homeworking all the stuff we’ve been doing in Covid anyway, that should have been quite easy to put in place, simply as a reasonable adjustment because this lady actually was disabled as defined in the Equality Act at the time anyway for a different reason. And that this would have simply been in place until their GP and the occupational health team combined said the HRT was kicking in and things were improving. It was a very open dialogue and there was a hope that in being honest this particular individual could have sought the right level of support. But instead of that, shockingly, the employer decided to put the person on a performance management programme. Quite a tough one, which logically, when you see that the report says that the symptoms are linked to menopause, you’re immediately looking at a red flag of discrimination.

Dr Louise Newson [00:14:29] Yes.

Emma Hammond [00:14:29] And at that point, she came to me and in fact, the sickness absence was precipitated by the performance management programme, as you can expect. And we carried on talking, and I do a lot of ghostwriting. So my presence often is very much hidden. I’m very conscious that if people who are having trouble at work, suddenly have a lawyer pop up, whether I’m writing or whether I’m contacting the employer, it can often be absolutely the wrong thing for the lady in question to be seen to be taking advice, even though it’s their prerogative. So I’m always very sensitive to how I can help. And again, as I say, I won’t charge for this work, but I will work very carefully so as they’re getting the best value for my time, of my time. So I’ll mirror the person’s style if I write for them, give them scripts for meetings, that kind of thing, and very much stay in the background to try and give them the power to feel they own their own process as well.

Dr Louise Newson [00:15:27] And that’s really important. I mean, I know a few of the ladies who you’ve helped. It’s been very transformational and it’s also it’s giving them a voice. And as you know, a lot of people when they’re perimenopausal, their memory goes, their concentration goes, their actual self esteem can reduce as well. So you turn into this often person who’s just a bit of a shell, and then if someone’s telling you something, even if it doesn’t feel right, it’s very hard then to do a counterargument. So to have this clear voice of reason and you’re really working as their legal advocate, aren’t you, to sort of help empower them and shape discussions. But I think, also I’m not aware of any negative feedback because I think it’s actually really helpful for the employer as well to know where the person’s coming from, because it can be very hard for HR departments or occupational health departments to know sometimes how best to help. And I think in the past, that whole thing of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is a quick thing, isn’t it? And it’s not good. You know, I employ many, many women in my organisation and quite a few of them are menopausal. I want them to come to work the best version of themselves because selfishly, I want to get the best out of them.

Emma Hammond [00:16:43] Of course.

Dr Louise Newson [00:16:43] But until we know what’s going on, you can’t help them. But having that legal voice, because there’s something about lawyers that can make things so straight and black and white. And that’s what you need when you’ve got this monkey noise, monkey chatter in your brain and you’re menopausal and you don’t know what you’re entitled to, I think that’s the other thing that’s really important, isn’t it?

Emma Hammond [00:17:06] Well, I think that’s right on the entitlement point, what I try and do is set out the individual’s rights. And we talk about that obviously behind the scene and I simplify that as best as I can. And the challenge, of course, just talking about the law for a minute, because it’s certainly a hot topic as to whether or not the Equality Act goes far enough. And the Women and Equalities Committee presently are looking at making menopause a protected characteristic. And that seems to have stalled with all of the governmental challenges at the moment. Clearly, unfortunately, it’s gone down their list, which is a shame. But the campaign continues. And I think the issue is we have to be very creative as lawyers for the claimants or for individuals pushing these issues and having these problems, because there isn’t a one size fits all and because there’s no protected characteristics as per sort of age or gender, we have to say, okay, so what are we looking at? And it sits quite uncomfortably to say menopause or the menopause symptoms are a disability, but that’s one of the major starting points. So we look at the definition of disability in the Equality Act, which is a mental or physical impairment that lasts or is likely to last 12 months or the rest of the person’s life, and has a substantial or adverse impact on their ability to carry out their day to day activities. So we break that down. But of course, you well know with your clinician’s head on that the symptoms fluctuate. So if an occupational health doctor or specialist is to look at an employee’s symptoms at one particular point in time, they may well say “well, although I’m not a judge and I can’t actually decide whether there’s a disability here, I don’t think there is because the symptoms aren’t severe enough, even though that lady is absolutely struggling to get out of bed and get to work. So it becomes almost too academic in its analysis. And of course, I will always argue that my client is disabled because I need to to maximise their position, because often the relationship’s broken down and I have to negotiate a deal. So I will do that analysis and as best as I can establish that disability. But ultimately, the only body that can do that is a tribunal. So in tribunal speak, we find the challenge for women in that place and I’ve looked at various cases where the stages that the lady has to go through are so arduous. They have to say they’re disabled if they’re pushing to claim, and then they have to go through a preliminary hearing to establish that disability, with their employer arguing that they can’t possibly be disabled and going through the law when obviously even attending that hearing when they’re in that space, is incredibly difficult. And they’ve got to face criticism over “well actually maybe, you were just not good at your job, it wasn’t these symptoms at all”. And all this horrible stuff that you have to go through. And recently a female judge said at a preliminary hearing that she could absolutely see that all of the symptoms you cited at the beginning of this session, such as brain fog, insomnia, anxiety, could amount to a disability. So we are getting somewhere. But of course, that’s the first hurdle. The next point is the main hearing. So there’s mostly – and I haven’t gone to tribunal in any of my cases yet because really the best solution for the employer and the employee is to either get them back to work and sort a dialogue and some mediation and start to move forward with reasonable adjustments or to settle unfortunately and accept that a new start is required for both parties, because we know that tribunals are incredibly stressful and quite destructive and not good for our party, you know. So we’re looking at Disability and the Equality Act, but then within that we’re looking at age. Of course, that only works in some circumstances and we’re also looking at gender. Would a man be treated the same in the same scenario? And obviously a man can’t go through  the menopause. So we look at the difference in treatment there as well. But again, you can see how you have to be pretty creative because there isn’t a protected characteristic to make these things fit to your circumstances. And that’s again, if I’m speaking to somebody who’s already struggling, that’s a heck of a task to do together.

Dr Louise Newson [00:21:21] It’s absolutely huge. And I heard and I don’t know whether you have as well Emma, that quite a few people say, “well, don’t you think the menopausal women will just use the menopause as an excuse because they’re underperforming at work?” Now, I obviously hold women in high esteem. I hold everybody in high esteem really and I want to believe people and I have not met a menopausal woman who does not want to feel better, you know. I think one of the problems and the frustrations for me is knowing that there’s so many people struggling in the workplace who are unable to access evidence-based treatment, so they’re struggling needlessly. And that really horrifies me. And a lot of the work we’re doing in the clinic to try and reduce costs to make things even easier to access evidence-based treatment is really crucial. We’re sort of cranking it up this year, but I don’t think anybody uses their symptoms – no one wants to have anxiety. No one wants to struggle with their memory. No one wants to have joint pain. No one wants to come into work saying, “I’m menopausal, give me some extra help”. Is that your experience as well?

Emma Hammond [00:22:22] It is, and nobody wants a pay cut either do they?

Dr Louise Newson [00:22:24] No, absolutely not.

Emma Hammond [00:22:25] You know, everybody wants to be the best they can be, certainly that’s what I’ve seen. And of course, going back to the lady that I helped who was very honest and open and obtained the occupational health report when she was struggling, legally, it’s very important that people are open with their employer because actually the employer, from a discrimination perspective, could say, “well we didn’t know and therefore it’s not discrimination”, there needs to be knowledge. And so that dialogue is important. And if we can empower women to speak up, I know it’s very difficult, but a lot of my clients, I work with a lot of businesses as well obviously around this, and there’s some fantastic businesses out there. Yorkshire Water is one of them. They’ve had a menopause policy in place way before it was a thing and I’ve been talking to them recently about helping them with some internal training. They’ve got a menopause taskforce. They’re very much ahead of – they were ahead particularly of where we were years ago – but even now they’re doing brilliant work. And so where you’ve got employers that are having that conversation, there’s an openness already and there’s a willingness for people who are struggling and coming through the ranks will feel, well it’s not embarrassing or difficult for me to raise this because it’s accepted and I know I’ll get support. So already a barrier has been broken down before we’ve started and you’re expecting to be supported, which is great. And I think more of my clients, my longstanding clients who I would help with other employment challenges, are coming to me because they’ve seen the work that I’ve been doing, also with menopause mandate and the campaign around that, to actually ask me for help and ask me to speak at events. So what is great is that employers are actually wanting to help people. They’re wanting to help their workforce and get the best out of them. And also they’re wanting to educate the male members of staff as they should, because they’ll be either managers or they’ll have partners or wives, people they want to help in their own lives. So all of that is very encouraging. But I think we just need to establish a situation where it’s not frowned upon to admit that you’re struggling. And in fact, one of my very close friends who came to the rally in Parliament with me in October, said, she’s similar age to me, it was interesting because when she speaks to her male boss, he has no trouble saying, “Oh, I’m feeling a bit rough today. I got a few symptoms” from a, I don’t know, kind of cold or flu or whatever it might be. “I’m not going to be on my best form today, so bear with me”. And that’s not linked, obviously, to any life stage or any hormonal issues. Typically, it’s just ‘not on my best form’, ‘not feeling great’. And she had a kind of a light bulb moment with that and thought, It’s funny, isn’t it? How because it’s not linked to anything that may be taboo or may be linked to a life stage, it might be easier for a man to admit that they’re not on best form. But because when you reach a certain age, the kind of symptoms that you’re talking about: off colour, losing concentration, had a bad night’s sleep, are naturally now  – particularly as we’re talking about it – thought to be linked to the menopause. Women are more likely to just grit their teeth and not tell anybody and not feel they can open up to perhaps that male manager because they might be worried about their future or their promotion or how they’re regarded in the workplace. And I think that’s one of the issues that still needs to be addressed because there is that fear that some employers, such as the ones I have sometimes faced, will still think that because they’re facing their own challenges with their own numbers and their bosses coming down on them, that their natural place to go to is performance management because they can’t see that there’s any other solution. 

Dr Louise Newson [00:26:13] Yeah. And I think it’s so important is this labelling and the, like you say, the taboo that people misunderstand the menopause and they’re almost scared because they don’t understand it. So we know for example, back pain is a very common reason for taking time off work. Now if I had time off for back pain, I wouldn’t have to go and have an MRI scan. I wouldn’t have to go and see the top back specialist to get a diagnosis. I would be believed and I would have the time off that I needed. I might be able to get some physio through my work scheme or I might be able to see somebody through my work scheme. And it’s just done. It’s one of those things and we know back pain is very common, you know, migraines, for example, I wouldn’t have to have a brain scan. I could just go and get help.

Emma Hammond [00:26:53] Yeah.

Dr Louise Newson [00:26:53] Something about the menopause. It’s like, ‘oh, hormones, women. Oh my goodness. How long is it going to last?’ Let’s make you feel really awkward and uncomfortable. And ‘how am I going to ask the right questions? How am I not going to upset her?’ And men, ‘do we really need to know about it’ or ‘I’m too young to think about the menopause’ or ‘it’s really uncomfortable’. And I think all these barriers have got to be just gone. So it is just a normal conversation. But actually above that, I really feel that employers should be saying, “well, how are you getting help? Have you seen a specialist”, or “have you seen a doctor or nurse?” And “perhaps you could, you know, invest in some time, have some time off” or whatever, and get the right treatment as well, Because investing in them now, it’s like if I had back pain, I wouldn’t want to have back pain every day. I’d want to hit it with some anti-inflammatories or painkillers or physio or whatever I needed, and then I could get back to work. And I think it’s the same with menopause. It’s almost seen as like, ‘it’s just a transition, let’s just wait for the women to be better and then they can carry on their jobs’ when actually for many women the symptoms can last for years or decades. We can’t do that. As women every day, we want it to be the best day of our lives. So there’s so much we need to get better, isn’t there?

Emma Hammond [00:28:06] Oh, there really is. And I think when you look at the stats of the amount of women leaving the workforce…

Dr Louise Newson [00:28:10] Very scary.

Emma Hammond [00:28:13] Particularly, you know, post-Covid, the value that that sort of 45 to 60 adds to the workforce and the workplace and the economy, particularly at the moment, it’s significant. And the value that you get from work, you know, as I said with the Leeds Mind work I did, the value we looked into as to what work does for you on a positive basis, particularly again when women who have been mothers are seeing that empty nest syndrome, they’re maybe caring for elderly parents, their value, even if they can only manage a part-time working life for the latter years, is so significant in what they can get from it and give back, it’s such a shame to waste it. It’s awful. And I think if we can give people that voice, both the employers and the employees, there’s some fabulous employers as I say, who are absolutely committed to helping, but they just need the support and they need the knowledge and they need to feel that that level of, as you say, taboo and embarrassment is now disappearing, as it absolutely has done for mental health. Why can’t it do that now for the menopause? It’s the last taboo, really, isn’t it?

Dr Louise Newson [00:29:19] Totally is. So the work you’re doing is incredible. We need more of you. We need more of gunnercookes in the world as well because you know, the setup of the organization is amazing, the work you’re doing is incredible. So I want to thank you very much. But just before we finish, I’d really like three take home tips. Three things that you think somebody who’s listening to this and might be struggling in the workplace, three things that you think they could do to help their employer actually to get the most out of them as an individual.

Emma Hammond [00:29:53] Okay. So I guess the first one is about getting yourself to a place where you feel you can speak up. Now, you may need help behind the scenes from either your GP or if you’re seeing somebody, a counsellor or a close family friend or family member to give you that confidence because you’re probably at a low place anyway. Speaking to your employer is maybe the last thing you feel like doing depending on their setup. And if you don’t feel you can speak to a manager, maybe seek out somebody who might be a female of a similar age or stage in your life within the workplace, who you feel you can trust so you can start to open up the conversation to. They could be your advocate, even if there isn’t a menopause sort of programme in place where those people are identified as menopause champions. Find somebody yourself and start that conversation, even if it’s only over a very sort of relaxed coffee, to open up to them and see how that conversation feels on an informal level to maybe then try and take it to a formal level if you are struggling. Because, as I say, openness not only helps the employer to understand what they might be able to do to help you, but legally it’s incredibly important because then we’re looking at fitting your symptoms within the Equality Act to gain you that support. And of course, the important thing to remember that I haven’t yet mentioned, is that discrimination rights under the age, sex and disability arena kick in from day one, even from a recruitment stage in fact, they’re in place. So you don’t need service, whereas clearly unfair dismissal is two years service. And so you need to remember that you are protected. And of course, under health and safety legislation as well, from a duty of care perspective, the employer is under a duty to create a healthy and safe working environment. So all of those things need to be remembered when you’re feeling lost, unsupported and unprotected. You do actually have some protections from early doors. So that’s the first thing. I think the other thing to do, which is more of a personal move that you can make but actually does help your employer as well, is where you’re having difficult moments, difficult conversations with people, difficult days, keep a diary.

Dr Louise Newson [00:32:08] Yeah.

Emma Hammond [00:32:09] Keep a diary of your symptoms and keep a diary of those symptoms and how they impact your performance or your working day. And when they do impact it, you may have had a terrible night with night sweats. What does that next day look like? And what if you had a magic wand? What would you do to waive that and say, okay, for me to survive today after that terrible night, what do I need my day to look like at work? It may be extra breaks, it may be working from home, depends on how your job is set up. It may be different uniform. All those things we’ve looked at before and employers are presently looking at are important because again, you can be your own advocate. Don’t expect the employer to second guess what you need. Try and open up and really be creative in that. Think about things that nobody would have thought about in your job before. I think there should be no barriers to this. It’s all up for debate. And on top of that, the third point, which is very much a self-protective step, but again, if things get a bit more dicey, would be helpful, selfishly to me as my line to the employer, is to send yourself emails. So most people have a Gmail, Hotmail address where those difficult moments happen, particularly perhaps difficult conversations with managers or where a colleague may say something that’s hurtful that they don’t even realise is hurtful because it’s linked to the menopause or menopause symptoms, is on that day if you can, go home or privately send yourself an email with a file note, a diary entry of what was said and what was done, what happened, because that’s timed and dated with it being electronic. So it’s very hard for somebody to say, ‘oh, you made that up weeks afterwards’, etc. And it’s good for you to then be able to go back and track. Okay, so if I do need to seek advice, these are the things I need to tell or if I need to speak to HR, this is my record and it may not be a formal grievance that you need to raise. It may just be, “look, these things are happening they’ve happened now for a few weeks, they’re making me feel very uncomfortable. I think we could do with a training programme or education internally. Please, can you help me?” It can be that level. Obviously, I only get involved when things get much more frenetic and stressful. But equally all those things are quite practical steps that I think everybody could take.

Dr Louise Newson [00:34:29] Really great advice, very sensible and actually easy when it’s broken down. So thank you ever so much Emma, for your time today and keep doing this work. It’s brilliant. Thank you.

Emma Hammond [00:34:39] Thanks, Louise.

Dr Louise Newson [00:34:42] For more information about the perimenopause and menopause, please visit my website Or you can download the free Balance app, which is available to download from the App Store or from Google Play.


Workplace menopause advice from lawyer Emma Hammond

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