It may be an accepted part of life that women go through the menopause, but it is certainly less accepted that female employees may need support in the workplace when coping with menopausal symptoms.
It’s 2018, but we have not yet reached a position whereby we are openly talking about issues that affect employees’ physical and mental wellbeing.
Menopause remains one of those taboos. Women don’t feel comfortable discussing it or seeking support from their manager or colleagues. Others may feel they need to conceal their symptoms to avoid being stigmatised. After all, how many times have you heard the ‘joke’ that someone in the office has PMS or it’s their time of the month?
With a high proportion of women over the age of 50 in employment, employers should be taking note of how to support their staff when going through the menopause. In particular, they should focus attention on how to make people more aware of menopausal symptoms and the ways in which they can affect employees’ attendance and performance.
How can menopause affect your female employees?
When a female employee goes through the menopause, she may experience hot flushes, have urinary problems, find it hard to sleep, suffer from low mood or anxiety, and have problems with concentration and memory. Typically, the symptoms can last between four and eight years and can vary from woman to woman.
All of these symptoms can have a noticeable impact on the employee’s professional life – it can affect the way she performs and the relationships she has with the people she works with. In some cases, she may also need to take time off.
How can an employer’s attitude land them in trouble?
In Merchant v BT plc, an employee brought claims of unfair dismissal and direct sex discrimination against her employer to an Employment Tribunal.
In this case, the employee was underperforming in her role and had been subject to the performance management procedure numerous times. It reached the point where her employer was considering whether to offer her alternative employment or dismiss her. The employee gave her employer a letter from her GP, which clearly stated that she was on the menopause and this could affect her concentration.
Despite the company’s performance management procedure laying down that an investigation must be carried out, the manager did not do so. Instead, he decided to judge it based on symptoms his wife and another colleague had experienced!
The Employment Tribunal upheld the employee’s claims – they found that the manager would never have adopted this approach if a male was suffering from a health condition with comparable symptoms and had performance issues.
What can employers do to support their employees who are going through the menopause?
Some steps you could consider include:
- Providing some training to line managers so they understand what the possible symptoms of menopause could be, how they can affect the employee and what adjustments they could make to help support the employee
- Encouraging people to come speak to you if they do require support.
- Giving employees some flexibility to attend health screenings and medical appointments
- Thinking about possible adjustments. For example, if an employee is struggling with the temperature in the workplace, you could allow them to put on the heating, move desk to a window or have desk fans. You could also provide access to cold drinking water and rethink the material used in uniforms.
- Considering flexible working arrangements, for instance, perhaps you could allow them a later start to deal with the sleep deficiencies or let them work from home on particularly bad days.
- Ensure that the employee does not suffer detriment for absences related to menopausal symptoms
- Referring them to occupational health support or an Employee Assistance Programme for support.