Managing menopause in the workplace | Q&A with Sarah Bunker, Senior Solicitor
Written by Sarah Bunker, Senior Solicitor
1. What is menopause and who does it affect?
According to our recent survey, nearly two-thirds (65%) of employers and HR professionals don’t provide any menopause-specific support to employees. With an ageing working population and increased rates of employees in the workplace aged 50 and over, more will experience the effects of menopause during their working lives, which can impact negatively on productivity and retention if employers continue to fail to acknowledge this as an issue.
Menopause does not only affect women; other employees who have a menstrual cycle are equally affected. This could include trans people (whose gender is not the same as that they were assigned at birth), people with variations in sexual development (VSD), also identifying as intersex or using the term “differences in sexual development” (DSD) and those who identify as non-binary.
Menopause usually happens between 45 and 55 years old but can also occur earlier or later in life. For many people, symptoms last about four years, but symptoms can sometimes last a lot longer.
There are three different stages of menopause:
Some employees might even experience early menopause or go through medical menopause earlier in their lives. All stages and types of menopause are different; symptoms can vary from employee to employee and range from mild to severe.
2. What can employers do to support employees (women and others who have a menstrual cycle) experiencing menopause in the workplace?
Employers can provide support in many ways, including:
- Taking steps to raise awareness of the symptoms and impact that menopause can have. Providing a culture of openness and positivity when dealing with the challenges menopause presents for employees,
- Involving everyone in the conversations and training about menopause, as even if they do not experience menopause themselves, they may be supporting others going through it,
- Appointing a menopause champion to be the point of contact for advice. Facilitating a discussion with the employee; if they do not feel comfortable raising the topic with management,
- Ensuring managers receive appropriate training so they can talk and listen sensitively, find ways to give support and know what support and guidance the employer can offer to employees,
- Introducing a menopause policy, and ensuring that other policies, procedures and practices that may impact on those experiencing menopause are adjusted appropriately,
- In line with the employer’s duties, to conduct a risk assessment of employees’ work and workplace. Ensure that for employees affected by menopause, their symptoms are not exacerbated by their workplace or working practices. Changes are made to help employees manage their symptoms whilst doing their job.
3. Can employees take time off for menopause?
For those experiencing symptoms, it can be a difficult and stressful time. As explained, everyone will experience menopause differently; for some, symptoms can be quite severe and affect employees both physically and mentally. It may necessitate taking time off work. There is no standalone right to take time off for employees experiencing symptoms of menopause, so they will be reliant on sick leave and sick pay. If employers are aware that the absence is due to menopause, it would be sensible for these absences to be recorded separately from other absences as it might be unfair or discriminatory to do otherwise.
Another option employers might want to consider in supporting an employee experiencing menopause is offering them the opportunity to apply to work more flexibly under the flexible working policy.
4. Should employers have a menopause policy in the workplace?
A policy specifically addressing menopause will give employers a framework for supporting employees more constructively. In addition, this policy will provide employees with increased confidence that they can raise their concerns in the knowledge that the employer understands what they are experiencing and is ready and willing to listen.
5. Should employers provide training to managers on menopause awareness?
There are significant risks for employers regarding discriminatory treatment of employees experiencing menopause. Court records have shown that the number of tribunal cases citing menopause increased by 44% in 2021, and the mention of “menopause” increased 75% in tribunal documentation.
Although earlier this year, the Government confirmed that menopause would not be a protected characteristic in its own right, employees have the existing equalities legislation, which could provide them with a basis for a discrimination claim on the grounds of sex, disability, age and/or gender reassignment. Additionally, an employer has duties under the health and safety legislation to ensure employees’ health, safety and welfare at work.
For all these reasons, employers must ensure managers are trained about how the effects of menopause may impact (for example) employees’ performance, attendance/sickness record and general wellbeing to minimise the risk of a claim not only against the employer but in the case of discrimination, the manager personally.
6. If an employer is not aware the employee is experiencing menopause, is it still possible for a claim to be brought?
For certain types of disability discrimination claims, the employer must know or should have known about the employee’s disability. However, a tribunal may find that the manager/the employer knew about a disability because they were aware of the severity and impact of the symptoms the employee was experiencing, even if they did not appreciate that the cause of those symptoms was menopause. Also, knowledge or awareness of menopause is not relevant for other claims of discrimination or under the health and safety legislation that the employee might also bring, as already outlined above.
7. What are the legal risks and obligations of managing staff through menopause?
Our poll results even revealed that nearly seven in ten (68%) line managers don’t understand the legal risks and obligations of managing staff going through menopause. The potential legal risks have already been highlighted above, but this is where the importance of ensuring a published menopause policy exists on which managers receive training comes into play. Not only to minimise risks for the employer and the manager themselves but also to provide employees with a safe working environment where they can continue contributing effectively to the workplace whilst undergoing menopause transition process.
8. How can employers and HR manage any grievances related to menopause?
Employers must ensure that any complaints/grievances about detrimental treatment by employees experiencing menopause are investigated where appropriate. This should be through the same grievance process as any other complaints and with the same care, fairness and thoroughness as any further investigation into acts of potential discrimination, hopefully finding an effective resolution to the grievance and avoiding unwanted litigation.
Is the menopause a taboo subject in your workplace? Unsure where to start with supporting line managers and employees?
WorkNest’s Employment Law and HR experts can provide an array of support, from delivering menopause awareness training to helping you navigate reasonable adjustments and manage any performance concerns confidently and compliantly.