Employers are under increasing pressure to ensure adequate support is provided for menopausal women to ensure they can retain existing talent and attract new staff. The menopause is a normal part of the ageing process, and it is thought that 1 in 3 women in the UK are estimated to be going through or have reached menopause. Managers play a vital role in being able to raise awareness and provide support for menopausal staff. However, are they geared up to do this?
The Menopause Survey in 2018 examined the experiences and awareness of the menopause amongst Police officers and staff, 44% of the survey’s participants acknowledged taking sickness absence due to the menopause and had not told their line manager of the real reason for their absence. In some cases, where participants had taken sickness absence due to the menopause, the sick notes typically cited stress and anxiety as the reason for the absence as employees did not feel comfortable sharing the actual reason with managers. It is evident there is an immediate need for employers to take steps to change how menopause is dealt with in the workplace.
Claims relating to the menopause are highly fact sensitive and will depend on the individual case however menopausal workers may be protected under the Equality Act 2010 in relation to age, sex and in some cases, disability. Menopausal staff may be able to establish that their symptoms meet the definition of a disability if the symptoms have a severe impact on an employee’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities. Where a condition amounts to a disability, the employer will also be under an obligation to make reasonable adjustments. What adjustments are considered reasonable will depend on the facts and the disadvantage suffered by the worker.
How are employers changing their approach?
In recent years there have been several high-profile Tribunal claims and a large quantity of media coverage relating to the menopause. Employers and business owners can no longer afford to ignore the menopause or for the menopause to remain a taboo topic in the workplace. To retain the skills and experience of menopausal workers, as well as avoid potentially costly and damaging discrimination claims, it’s time to change and educate staff on the menopause.
The Government Equalities report 2017 highlights that employers should put in place training, processes and information so colleagues have access to information on the menopause. One way to do this is to ensure that issues such as the menopause are discussed as part of a wider health awareness campaign so that staff understand the resources they have access to for support and there is positive messaging about seeking professional support.
Several large organisations (including Channel 4, HSBC and Virgin) have introduced schemes to support employees in the workplace. This has focused on implementing specific menopause policies and guidance to support employees. Kellogg’s announced in October 2021 that it will provide more support to staff experiencing the menopause which includes training managers on how to talk about the menopause as well as flexible working and occupational health support for those experiencing the menopause. Menopause policies should set out the employer’s approach to supporting employees with the menopause and signposting to appropriate resources. The policy should also outline the employer’s commitment to constructive, open and honest conversations about the impact of the menopause on staff.
In line with health and safety obligations, employers should conduct a risk assessment that considers the needs of menopausal staff. As part of the risk assessment process, employers should consider what adjustments to the workplace are appropriate to manage any risks. Adjustments to the workplace include providing desk fans, good ventilation, changing dress codes, increasing natural light and access to quiet spaces depending on the individual circumstances.
At Loch Associates Group, our specialist employment law solicitors and HR consultants are experts in providing training on discrimination issues and supporting employers with complying with their legal obligations.