Increasingly, claims are being made against employers who fail to provide adequate support for staff affected by the menopause. This article looks at why you should take the issue seriously and how to cultivate a supportive workplace environment.
Who does the menopause affect?
Women usually experience the menopause sometime between the ages of 45 and 55, but it can happen earlier. Symptoms can start a few months or even years before this, during a natural transitional stage called the perimenopause.
Symptoms vary hugely between individuals, but can include fatigue, hot flushes, insomnia, headaches/migraines, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, anxiety, depression, loss of confidence, mood swings and panic attacks.
Symptoms often last around 4 years, but can go on for longer. Treatments are available (e.g. hormone replacement therapy), but don't always work.
Trans, non-binary and intersex people can also experience the menopause.
How the menopause could impact your business
A survey of nearly 1,500 women experiencing menopausal symptoms by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that:
- 60% were negatively affected by the menopause at work;
- 30% took sick leave (75% of those felt they couldn't tell their manager the real reason);
- 65% were less able to concentrate;
- 58% experienced more stress; and
- 52% felt less patient with clients and colleagues.
Over an undefined time period, almost 900,000 women left their jobs due to their symptoms – often at the peak of their work experience.
Your business may see a loss of knowledge, talent and experience if you don't find a way to support people who are going through the menopause.
A government inquiry is analysing existing legislation and workplace practices to see if enough is being done to address the problem.
Anyone who is discriminated against or harassed based on their experience of menopausal symptoms can make claims on several grounds:
- Direct or indirect sex discrimination: e.g. treating menopausal symptoms less seriously than the health condition of a male staff member.
- Direct or indirect age discrimination: menopausal staff fall within a certain age group and are sometimes treated less favourably than other staff because of their age.
- Direct or indirect disability discrimination or discrimination arising from disability: to be classified as a disability, menopausal symptoms need to have a substantial and long-term effect (at least 12 months) on a person's ability to do their normal day-to-day activities. Employment tribunals have accepted in principle that this is possible, but haven't yet ruled that someone with menopausal symptoms has a disability (though a case that's currently being heard may change this). Employers need to make reasonable changes to the workplace if they're aware, or should reasonably be aware, of an individual's disability.
- Harassment: affected individuals may experience unwanted behaviour or comments that may cause distress.
- Constructive dismissal: employees could make a claim for this if negative or dismissive responses breach their trust and confidence.
What you can do
Consider training your line managers to understand what the menopause is and how it can affect individuals.
Provide them with menopause support guidance so they are able to have meaningful conversations and manage affected staff. E.g. the CIPD guidance for line managers and the Acas guide on menopause at work.
Create an open and supportive culture that gives affected workers the confidence to disclose their issues and experiences. You can raise awareness by:
- Downloading posters and leaflets from the CIPD.
- Signing the Menopause Workplace Pledge to commit to:
- recognising the menopause as an issue in the workplace;
- talking openly, positively and respectfully about it with your staff; and
- actively supporting and informing those affected by it.
- Arranging events to educate or remind your staff during World Menopause Month (October) or on World Menopause Day (18 October).
Perform risk assessments
Your health and safety obligations require you to conduct risk assessments that consider the needs of menopausal and perimenopausal staff. You can use the results to establish what changes you might need to make to the workplace as a result.
Depending on the situation you could:
- Provide desk fans and better ventilation to counter high temperatures and humidity.
- Provide access to quiet areas to counter noisy/stressful work environments.
- Offer to move workstations to areas with more natural light.
- Make required changes to staff uniforms.
- Offer flexible working arrangements.
- Change your sickness policy to make an exemption for absence due to menopausal symptoms.
Note that most of these will be a legal requirement if the individual is classed as disabled.
Introduce a menopause policy
A menopause policy should set out your approach, outline relevant training and tell employees where to direct queries.
We're currently developing a policy for this purpose, which we hope to make available soon.
Provide other sources of help
You could consider giving access to menopause specialists, stress or mindfulness apps, or paying for HRT prescriptions for affected staff.