A better deal for retail workers going through the menopause

World Menopause Day - 18th October 2023

19 Oct 2023| News

Retail trade union Usdaw has been working with Tesco to support staff experiencing menopausal symptoms. Changes now agreed between Usdaw and Tesco mean that menopause-related absences are no longer included in sickness absence calculations.

On World Menopause Day (18 October), Jane Jones from Usdaw told the TUC how the agreement came about.

Jane has worked for Tesco for nearly 20 years and has been an Usdaw member since 2004. Jane became an Usdaw rep in 2014 and then Branch Chair two years later.

Jane said:

“As part of our pay claim every year, we obviously always have the pay element, but we also put forward consultative issues as part of the claim. We wanted to discuss the menopause and how people going through the menopause should be treated at work.”

Working party

Jane told the TUC:

“We started out by setting up a working group of about 15 women from across the country who were employed in different roles in Tesco stores.

The working party met a few times to discuss what we wanted and put some ideas together. The first meeting was quite emotional as the group shared so many stories and experiences of what working while going through the menopause was like.

Women talked about feeling embarrassed about having to ask for more toilet breaks than normal, not being able to sit on the checkout for as long as expected or having to ask to go home to freshen up. Others spoke about hot flushes and sitting in meetings while dripping with sweat.

A big concern was around sickness absence and the stress of not being able to come to work because of menopausal symptoms, but then knowing that you could be in trouble when you got back to work for having had to take the time off sick.

After a few meetings over a couple of months, we then presented our ideas to the company. And the company were really receptive.

We always tend to ask for more than we are going to get! But after a bit of back and forth, most of what we put forward was accepted and turned into company policy.”

A big win

Jane explained:

“A big win was that time off for menopausal symptoms is now taken out of sick leave calculations. This change to the sickness absence policy will give our female staff the confidence to take the time they need to deal with the symptoms they are experiencing.

Then following their return to work, an employee and their manager can work together to focus on how the company can best support the individual.

Working in customer facing roles, working nights, fluctuating shift patterns and a lack of awareness can aggravate menopause symptoms and make it more difficult for staff to raise the issue and ask for workplace adjustments. Having this policy in place is already making a huge difference to Tesco staff.”

A clear and supportive policy

Jane said:

“I’d advise other reps to think about talking to their companies about introducing menopause policies. After all, it’s something all women will go through.

And it’s always better to have a clear and supportive policy in place in advance, than having to spend time going through unnecessary and avoidable disciplinary processes at a later date.

It’s great that Tesco has recognised that women experiencing the menopause need additional support and flexibility and that absence should be managed supportively, not punitively.”