The Nuffield Health Group state that around 13 million women in the UK are either perimenopausal or post-menopausal and dealing with menopause symptoms that can last up to 15 years.
As an employer, even if you don’t know much about menopause yourself, these figures alone show that a large proportion of your workforce could be suffering from long-term, debilitating symptoms associated with menopause that affect their daily life, behaviour and work.
Part of your responsibility as an employer is to support your employee’s health and well-being, and menopause is a key health area that has received a lot of mainstream media attention in the last few years from prominent spokeswomen like Davina McCall’s channel 4 documentaries, and Dr Louise Newson’s segments on ‘This Morning’.
Their work is highlighting the symptoms that menopausal women, trans and non-binary people face when going through menopause and have generated conversations that ensure employers have access to plenty of resources that allow them to be more knowledgable than ever when it comes to this time in an employee’s life.
By taking a proactive stance on menopause as an employer, you can ensure that you have an up-to-date understanding of how your employees may be affected and that you take steps to ensure that you have procedures and support in place to help your staff going through menopause at work.
These actions can, in turn, ensure that employees feel supported and reduce the chance of affected employees feeling discriminated against due to experiencing menopause-related symptoms.
Read on to understand your legal responsibilities around menopause in the workplace, whether you need a menopause policy, and the proactive steps that you can take to support those who are affected by menopause symptoms at work.
What Is Menopause?
Menopause is a natural part of the ageing process that happens to anyone with a womb and ovaries.
It occurs as a result of the ovaries losing their reproductive function and causes periods to stop. This process results in a broad range of symptoms that can affect behaviour, health, wellness and mood.
The age that women will go through menopause varies but usually falls between 45-55, with the average age being 51.
The menopause can, however, occur much earlier, and any time before aged 45 is classed as early menopause. Early menopause is especially common if a woman has had surgery to remove their womb and/or ovaries.
What Does The Law Say?
There is no specific employment law governing the handling of menopause in the workplace, and it is not a protected characteristic in itself under discrimination law, but would likely be inherently linked to the characteristic of gender.
Menopause is, however, a topic that will affect a large proportion of your workforce at some point in their lives, meaning that it’s in your interests as an employer to get ahead of the topic and pro-activity address it with effective HR management tools and procedures.
Whilst there is no law specifically stating how you should act concerning menopause at work, you do need to know how menopause relates to the Equality Act 2010 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1984.
Knowing your obligations under this legislation can help you to have steps, procedures and support in place to help staff affected by menopause as well as protect workers against discrimination and ensure their health, safety and welfare are maintained at work.
Proactive Steps You Can Take As An Employer
Menopause affects women in experiencing symptoms in different ways.
This means that whilst there isn’t a one size fits all approach to handling menopause in the workplace, there are plenty of simple things that can be done to make a real difference to staff who need support when they are going through this period in their life.
From wellbeing programs, promoting a workplace culture that supports openness and positivity to conversations around menopause, changing leadership perceptions, updating policies and introducing staff training, you can manage difficult conversations regarding topics such as absence and performance issues that may be directly related to menopause.
- Train line managers on how to have open, objective and sympathetic conversations on menopause.
- This may include knowing what organisational policies relate to menopause, and understanding that every woman’s menopause experience is different and occurs at different times. Managers should know that the support they need to provide will vary, how they can support staff, and be able to signpost employees to support groups, resources and medical professionals that can help them manage and cope with their menopause experience
- Employers should know what support is available to women, trans people and people with variations of sex development (VSD) going through the menopause
- know how menopause relates to the law and discrimination
- Hold open conversations about menopause and its effect on employees
- Respect employee privacy and not disclose any information regarding their menopause to other colleagues without their permission.
- Be able to make reasonable adjustments to working patterns, equipment needed, or places of work if applicable to aid the management of symptoms that your employee is experiencing
- Know that they can’t treat someone differently or put them at a disadvantage because of menopause symptoms. Doing so could be discrimination when related to a protected characteristic such as age, sex, disability, or gender reassignment.
- Consider creating and maintaining a menopause policy
Although menopause is now being spoken about publically more than it ever has before, employees may still struggle to have open discussions about it at work.
This could be because they feel embarrassed, are unsure if they will be taken seriously, are worried that they will be seen as less able to do their job due to their symptoms, or simply feel that it’s a matter too private to talk about at work.
Ultimately, if an employee or worker feels that they have been put at a disadvantage or treated less favourably due to experiencing menopause, then they may be able to claim an employment tribunal.
As an employer, you can address this by taking an open and proactive approach to menopause at work which can in turn help to alleviate some of these concerns from your employees and ensure your managers are aware of the issues their staff may be facing.
This allows your team to act compassionately, hold the right conversations, and reduce the chance of employment tribunals resulting from discrimination laws being breached.
If you want to learn more about menopause, take a look at ‘Balance’, the menopause society and the NHS websites for a good starting point. You may also be interested in the following statistics from research conducted by the Nuffield Health group, which indicate that:
- Approximately 13 million women in the U.K are either peri- or post-menopausal
- Symptoms can last up to 15 years
- Over 60% of women experience symptoms resulting in behaviour changes
- 1 in 4 women will experience severe debilitating symptoms
- Almost half of the menopausal women say they feel depressed
- A third of women say they suffer from anxiety
- Women commonly complain of feeling as though they are going mad
- Approximately two-thirds of women say there is a general lack of support and understanding
We hope that this article has provided an introduction to the types of menopause-related issues you may be faced with as an employer, along with some simple steps that you can take to give anyone experiencing debilitating menopause symptoms the understanding and action they deserve.
Ensuring that you have the tools and training in place to manage conversations relating to the effect menopause symptoms may have on employee performance, attendance and engagement at work can protect you against the risk of unfair dismissal or discrimination claims.
Looking for support on menopause policies, training or conversations? Talk to your Neathouse contact to get the tools, knowledge and procedures that you need.