Menopause at work | An employer’s guide
Written by Lorna Gemmell on 30 June 2022
According to the NHS, 45% of women feel that menopausal symptoms have a negative impact on their work. What’s more, 47% who needed to take a day off said they wouldn’t tell their employer the real reason.
Clearly, the issue of menopause remains somewhat of a taboo topic. And when you consider that menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in the workforce, it’s a problem employers cannot afford to shy away from forever.
Indeed, menopause can have a profound effect on women’s day-to-day lives, and many find managing their symptoms in the workplace challenging. Aside from the individual impact, 59% of women have taken time off work due to their symptoms and around one million women have left work early as a result, which is enough to make any employer sit up and take notice.
With this in mind, it’s incumbent upon organisations to provide the necessary support, and to create an environment where people feel able to speak openly about menopause at work.
Fortunately, recent media coverage has reignited the conversation, and many are already making positive strides in this direction. Just recently, a number of large employers – including the BBC, Royal Mail and the Civil Service – have signed up to the Menopause Workplace Pledge, a commitment to making their organisations a supportive and understanding place for employees going through menopause.
Still, many employers feel out of their depth and, in our experience, struggle to know where to start. Here’s our beginner’s guide to employer’s responsibilities around the menopause at work.
What is menopause and how might it affect people at work?
Menopause is the time when your menstrual periods stop permanently due to lower hormone levels. It is officially confirmed after a woman has gone 12 months without a menstrual period.
Menopause can happen in your 40s or 50s. The average age for the menopause in the UK is 51, meaning many women will start to experience perimenopausal symptoms around the age of 47.
The menopause can have an impact on both physical and emotional health. Common symptoms include hot flashes, mood changes (such as low mood and irritability), headaches, joint stiffness or aches, and difficulty sleeping.
In the workplace, these symptoms might manifest as:
- Inability to concentrate on tasks;
- Brain fog and memory issues;
- Increased feelings of stress;
- A loss of confidence;
- Feeling less patient with others;
- Low energy and fatigue; and
- Being physically unable to carry out duties due to discomfort of pain.
Some women sail through their menopause with barely a symptom, but it’s not an easy transition for all.
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What do employers need to have in place?
Whilst having a menopause policy is not a legal requirement, it is considered best practice. In fact, Acas guidance recommends that employers have a specific menopause policy, and a growing number of organisations are taking this step.
A menopause policy should:
- Provide information on what the menopause is;
- Encourage staff to be open about the menopause; and
- Clearly highlight available support and who colleagues should contact if they are struggling.
At WorkNest, we’re seeing a positive response to these policies, with many organisations choosing to include them when updating their Employee Handbook. If you don’t have one already, you can download our free template menopause policy below.
Free Template: Menopause Policy
Created by our HR and Employment Law specialists, this template policy explains what the menopause is, who employees should contact if they need support, and possible adjustments that could be made to mitigate the impact of menopause symptoms at work.
Just last year, an inquiry considered whether legislation is required to mandate a workplace menopause policy after a survey conducted by the Women and Equalities Committee revealed, amongst other things, that many workplaces don’t have any policies relating to menopause and women don’t always know how to seek support.
The outcome is awaited, but it makes sense for organisations to get on the front foot now.
In addition to introducing a menopause policy, organisations may also benefit from providing training to tackle common misconceptions and provide practical and effective solutions to help support and manage menopause at work.
Training is particularly useful in helping managers feel more comfortable and knowledgeable when supporting staff, especially those who have no first-hand experience of the menopause – usually younger people and men.
What are the legal risks?
Employees with disabilities are protected against discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. If an employee’s menopause symptoms have a “substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”, then they may be considered to have a disability.
This will be very fact-specific; however, in a recent Employment Tribunal case, one employee successfully argued that menopause is capable of being classed as a disability. The Employment Appeal Tribunal determined that her symptoms were more than minor or trivial; they affected her day-to-day activities, including forgetting to use her handbrake in her car and often forgetting to attend appointments.
Employers should therefore be alert to this fact, as if an employee is put at a disadvantage or treated less favourably due to their menopause symptoms – for example, if they are put on a performance management plan as a result of their symptoms, or the employer fails to provide reasonable adjustments – this will provide grounds for a claim.
Furthermore, it’s not just disability discrimination employers must be mindful of. Claims may also be made on the grounds of sex or age, and this could include claims for harassment, victimisation and unfair dismissal, too.
In the case of Best v Embark, for instance, an employee’s claim for harassment succeeded after the Employment Tribunal found that comments made by a colleague amounted to unwanted conduct relating to the employee’s sex, which had the effect of violating the employee’s dignity and creating a humiliating environment for the employee at work. With this in mind, employers should make sure managers receive training on dealing with this topic respectfully.
What reasonable adjustments should be made?
If an employee’s menopause symptoms do amount to a disability, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to help them carry out their job effectively.
According to responses to the Women and Equalities Committee’s Menopause and the workplace survey, commonly requested adjustments include:
- Flexible working arrangements (43%);
- Ability to control temperature (36%);
- Support with emotional wellbeing (34%);
- Working from a different office/site or working from home (28%);
- Reduced work hours (23%);
- Other changes to job role or duties (16%);
- Better access to toilets and other facilities (7%); and
- Changes to uniform or clothing (7%).
Again, whether employers have a legal duty to implement these adjustments will rest on whether the employee is considered to be disabled or not. However, even if their symptoms don’t meet the threshold for disability, it’s worth considering such adjustments in order to make work more manageable and help employees perform at their best.
Interestingly, just under 11% of respondents reported to have actually requested adjustments. Of those who didn’t, 26% said they were worried about the reaction of others and 19% said they were unsure who to speak to. These are barriers that employers should therefore look to overcome by opening up the conversation around menopause and putting proper processes in place.
Why should employers care?
There are clear, compelling reasons for supporting menopausal women in the workplace.
Firstly, there’s the growing threat of Employment Tribunal claims. In fact, according to Menopause Experts Group, there were 23 Tribunals concerning menopause in 2021, an increase of 44% on the previous year. This highlights that employees are more aware of their rights and may be motivated to take things further if they feel they have been unfairly treated, increasing the risk to employers. Given the time, cost and disruption of having to defend a claim, not to mention the possible reputational damage, taking proactive steps to provide support to women is essential.
In addition to avoiding hefty legal costs, there are other financial benefits of supporting women through menopause. After all, most initiatives require relatively little financial investment compared to the cost of absences and replacing women who leave the business.
Further, creating the environment where employees feel able to talk openly about menopause, and where support is readily available, will undoubtedly help organisations to attract and retain a diverse and inclusive workforce. In fact, a poll of 2,000 women currently experiencing menopause or premenopausal symptoms across the UK discovered that 18% were looking to leave their jobs due to a lack of menopause support.
With many employers finding recruitment and retention a significant challenge, steps such as signing up to the Menopause Workplace Pledge will help to demonstrate your commitment to supporting employees and strengthen employer brand.
6 top tips for supporting staff affected by menopause
Introduce a menopause policy. This will give women the tools to understand how to approach their managers, and help managers understand how to support employees who raise menopausal issues.
Consider reasonable adjustments. Simple, low-cost support, like a desk fan, time off to visit their GP, or even just the opportunity to talk about it, can really help.
Ensure health and safety risk assessments consider the specific needs of those experiencing the menopause and that the working environment will not make their symptoms worse.
Openly discuss the menopause to help reduce stigma. Raise awareness, share evidence-based information and signpost people to resources. Organisations such as The Menopause Charity and Menopause and Me provide helpful guidance, podcasts, symptoms checklists and other educational materials, and employees may also benefit from attending ‘Menopause Cafés’ held across the country, where people meet to discuss menopause in an accessible, respectful and confidential space.
Be aware that this is not just a gender or age issue. Colleagues can be indirectly affected by the menopause, if for example a spouse or significant other is going through it. Similarly, don’t forget to consider transgender and non-binary members of staff, who may also experience menopausal symptoms and require support.
Finally, make it clear that line managers don’t need to be menopause experts. Managers are often uncomfortable talking about menopause because they don’t feel knowledgeable enough on the subject. Emphasise that their role is simply to support their team members and follow your organisation’s policies. If it helps managers to feel more confident about having these conversations, menopause awareness training may be beneficial.
Keen to become a menopause-friendly employer?
WorkNest’s seasoned HR and Employment Law specialists are here to help you support staff and protect your business. We can:
- Provide training for managers on managing menopause-related issues in the workplace, as well as sessions for staff designed to increase awareness of the menopause;
- Provide you with an Employee Handbook containing all the essential policies your business needs to manage staff fairly and compliantly, including a Menopause Policy, Sickness Absence Policy and Equality and Diversity Policy;
- Advise on specific situations, including reasonable adjustments, to help you fulfil your duties as an employer and minimise the risk of disputes and claims.
For advice, support and training, call 0345 226 8393 or request your free consultation using the button below.