The menopause and how it affects women in the workplace has recently received considerable media coverage sparking public debate about the way employers should deal with this sensitive issue. The documentary by Davina McCall on Channel 4 in early May covered moving stories of women being dismissed, resigning or suffering in the workplace as a result of their menopausal symptoms.
In September 2021, the House of Commons’ Women & Equalities Committee (WEC) conducted a survey on menopause and the workplace which found that 99% of the respondent women experienced menopause symptoms which affected them negatively at work. Symptoms and effects of the menopause (and perimenopause) can be wide ranging and include difficulty sleeping, anxiety and depression, problems with concentration (“brain fog”), loss of confidence, hot flushes/night sweats, pain and headaches among others, all of which can directly or indirectly affect a woman’s ability to carry out their job effectively.
However, due to the stigma around talking about menopause at work, not knowing who to speak to about it and a lack of knowledge and awareness in the workplace about how the menopause can affect women, very often women do not seek help.
Why should employers be concerned?
There is the obvious detriment to employers and the economy when millions of women between the ages of 45 to 55 are not able to perform to the best of their abilities, due a natural condition, which results in them losing their confidence, taking additional sick leave and in some cases leaving the workforce. This is potentially a huge loss of talent which may be preventable if certain measures are taken (see below).
There are also a number of legal considerations such as the employer’s duty to take reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of its employees or the potential for discrimination claims if a women suffering with the menopause is treated less favourably than other employees. In October 2021, the Employment Appeal Tribunal commented that female employees suffering from menopausal symptoms which were more than minor or trivial may be disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. It may also be possible for employees to bring claims of sex or age discrimination in relation to menopausal symptoms and employers should be aware that disputes involving the menopause are on the rise particularly as the issue receives more media coverage.
What should employers do?
There are a number of steps an employer can take to support its employees and comply with its legal obligations. In particular, we would recommend employers consider the following:
- Raise awareness in the workplace – the WEC found that a significant barrier to employees speaking out about the menopause was the stigma attached to it. If colleagues and employers do not understand what effect symptoms could have on women, and women are too embarrassed to discuss it, then it is difficult for adjustments to be made and help given. Employers should introduce training and education for all employees (especially managers) to help raise awareness and combat stigma.
- Encourage conversation – employers should make it clear to women suffering from the menopause that they should feel able to discuss their situation openly and ask for help when it is needed. Employers should be clear about what adjustments may be available to employees.
- Designate someone for employees to talk to – Employers should ensure that line managers and other key employees, such as HR Managers, are trained to understand the effect that the menopause can have on women and how to speak to employees about this and provide help. It may help to dedicate a specific person who employees can go to if they need assistance.
- Risk assessment – Employers should consider what additional risks employees with menopausal symptoms may experience in the workplace and, where necessary, make adjustments for this such as temperature control, rest breaks and mental wellbeing support.
- Implement a policy – Employers should consider introducing a menopause policy which would cover all of the information above and can direct employees to other sources of useful information.
Implementing a menopause policy (and providing associated training) is likely to be the most comprehensive way an employer can make sure that they are taking the appropriate steps to support women affected by menopause in the workplace.
Taylor Walton are able to advise on all matters relating to the menopause and employers’ obligations in the workplace including assisting in drafting a menopause policy. Please do not hesitate to contact Anna Bithrey (01582 390407; firstname.lastname@example.org) or the Employment Department on 01582 731161 for further information.