Guide on Navigating Menopause & Perimenopause In the Workplace

Welcome to our comprehensive guide on navigating menopause and perimenopause in the workplace.

As a firm dedicated to women’s workplace rights and health, we recognize the unique challenges faced by employees undergoing these natural life stages. Menopause and perimenopause, while part of the same inevitable transitional phase in a woman’s life (primarily impacting individuals assigned female at birth, including cisgender women, some non-binary people, and transgender men) are distinct stages, each with its own symptoms and impacts on work performance and comfort.

Our aim is to offer support, advice, and legal solutions for those navigating these natural biological changes, ensuring they understand their rights and the protections available to them.

Perimenopause marks the transition leading up to menopause, typically beginning in a woman’s 40s, but can start as early as the late 30s, when the ovaries gradually produce less estrogen, causing changes in the menstrual cycle and the onset of symptoms like hot flashes, sleep disturbances, trouble concentrating, headaches, and mood swings. This stage can vary in length and intensity, reflecting the body’s adjustment to decreasing hormone levels, which can last from a few months to over a decade, with an average duration of approximately four years. 

Menopause is reached when a woman has not had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months, marking the end of reproductive years. The average age of onset is 51 in the United States, but it can vary widely. Menopause brings continued hot flashes, vaginal dryness, loss of libido, anxiety, changes in mood, cognitive function and feelings of loss of self.

As recently reported by Carrot Fertility the leading global fertility healthcare and family-forming benefits provider for employers and health plans, of  the 1,000 people experiencing perimenopause or menopause across the U.S. who were surveyed, the vast majority of women (79%) describe working during menopause as challenging, more than other common life stages, including starting a new job (75% describe as challenging), starting a family (70%), or getting a promotion (62%). Relatedly, when asked what age decade is the most challenging for being in the workplace, respondents ranked their 50s as number one, well ahead of second-ranked 20s.

Most women reported the need to take time off or faced other serious challenges in the workplace during menopause and perimenopause. A majority (54%) have encountered at least one menopause-driven work challenge, including loss of work time and job security concerns. Among the nearly 40% of women who took time off due to perimenopause or menopause symptoms, 71% lost more than 40 hours (one full week) of work time, and 30% reported losing more than a month of work time altogether. Of those who took time off, 59% felt they needed to conceal the reason for the time away.

Other workplace challenges tied to menopause reported included: perceived losses to credibility in the workplace, worries over job loss due to menopause stigma, and lost work friendships.

Legal Protections: The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008

While the U.S. still trails far behind some other industrialized nations in terms of workplace policies and practices for supporting women’s health, particularly concerning menopause awareness and accommodation, under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), protections are extended to employees experiencing significant symptoms during perimenopause and menopause when these symptoms impact major life activities or major bodily functions. This broad coverage ensures that many symptoms associated with these stages could be considered disabilities requiring reasonable accommodations.

Major Life Activities include: sleeping, thinking, walking, breathing, walking, concentrating, etc.

Major Bodily Functions include: functions of the immune and endocrine systems, neurological, brain and reproductive functions.

For example:

Impact on Major Life Activities:

Impact on Major Bodily Functions 

Consult with a menopause-aware gynecologist or internist to document these temporary impairments to share with your employer, which will then necessitate an “interactive process” or “cooperative dialogue” between your employer and you, and the employer must then provide “reasonable accommodations,” a.k.a., flexibility to help you perform the essential functions of your job, unless such accommodations would be an “undue hardship” on the company, which is generally difficult for the company to prove, and your accommodation requests are protected under the law, even if they’re not granted, so it is illegal for your company subject you to retaliatory backlash or further harassment because of these life stages or your request for support.

Beyond the ADAAA, other federal statutes offer avenues for protection and support:

The PDA and the PWFA provide a legal foundation that, while explicitly focused on pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions, suggests a broader commitment to accommodating reproductive health issues in the workplace. Both laws underscore the importance of recognizing and addressing the profound impact of reproductive health on an individual’s work life.

PDA: By prohibiting discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, the PDA opens the door to considering menopause—a significant reproductive life stage—as warranting similar considerations. The law’s mandate for equal treatment suggests that if accommodations or modifications are provided for pregnancy-related conditions, a case can be made for accommodating menopausal symptoms that similarly affect an individual’s ability to work. 

PWFA: With its explicit requirement for employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, the PWFA reinforces the importance of adapting workplace policies and practices to support reproductive health. This act sets a precedent for accommodating a range of reproductive health issues, potentially including menopause, by emphasizing the necessity of adjustments to ensure all employees can perform their jobs without compromising their health.

Both laws highlight the integral role of reproductive health in employment rights and responsibilities, suggesting a legal and ethical basis for extending similar protections and accommodations to individuals experiencing menopause. Recognizing menopause as part of the spectrum of reproductive health issues could further drive the development of inclusive workplace policies that support the well-being and productivity of all employees.

Don’t Forget State and City Protective Laws

In addition to federal protections, various state and city anti-discrimination laws provide even more comprehensive protections for working women, such as the New York State and New York City legal protections for employees through the State and City Human Rights Laws (HRLs).

Notably, NYC’s HRL unquestionably covers “impairments” related to menopause and perimenopause, reinforcing and expanding upon the protections provided under federal law.

The Intersection of Sex, Age, and Disability

Navigating menopause and perimenopause in the workplace involves protections against discrimination based on sex and age while also potentially involving disability accommodations.

This intersectionality underscores the complexity of the issues faced and the multifaceted nature of legal protections available, as such issues reflect the disparate treatment of women, exacerbated by the additional intersectional factors of age and disability, making menopause protections an intersectional feminist issue, given the multifaceted identities of affected women.

How to Seek Accommodations

For employees navigating menopause and perimenopause:

Resources and Support 

For further legal advice, support, and advocacy, consider reaching out to:

Conclusion

At Tuckner, Sipser, we champion the rights of all employees navigating the complex interplay of work and reproductive health, from the beginning to the conclusion of the reproductive life cycle.

Recognizing that transitions like menopause and perimenopause represent not just a personal journey but a workplace issue necessitates our collective action and understanding. Together, we can foster a workplace that not only accommodates but celebrates the diversity of experiences across the reproductive spectrum, ensuring that everyone is supported, valued, and empowered at every stage.

Deborah O’Rell, Client Advocate