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What are my obligations towards employees going through the menopause?

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The experiences of women coping with the menopause at work has been in the news recently with the Guardian newspaper reporting a significant increase in the number of women who have brought menopause-related claims against their employer.  Additionally, a Government inquiry is currently ongoing reviewing the discrimination faced by menopausal employees in the workplace and encouraging women to come forward and share their experiences. In light of these stories and the fact that next month is international Menopause Awareness Month, our Employment Law team discusses employers’ obligations towards employees who are experiencing the menopause.

Impact of menopause on women in the workplace

Menopause usually occurs when women are between 45 and 55 – an age when many women are at the peak of their career – and symptoms can last for several years. Symptoms of the menopause include:

  • Hot flashes;
  • Lack of sleep;
  • Lack of concentration;
  • Headaches;
  • Depression and anxiety.

Research conducted by the Chartered Institute for Personal Development (CIPD) has found that three in five women who experience symptoms feel that it negatively impacts their work, and many feel no choice but to leave their jobs. As a result, businesses lose some of their most experienced female employees which in turn may exacerbate the gender pay gap and decrease gender diversity in companies’ higher ranks.

Legal protections for menopausal women

Menopause is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, but women who feel they have been subjected to a detriment at work due to the menopause can bring a discrimination claim on the basis of sex, age, or possibly disability.

Menopausal employees are also protected by health and safety legislation. Employers have a duty to provide a safe working environment and this extends to employees whose working conditions include symptoms of the menopause. Workplace risk assessments should consider these employees and any adjustments that could be made to help alleviate symptoms of the menopause such as good ventilation, access to cold water, and nearby toilet facilities.

There is some discussion in the Government as to whether the above protections offer sufficient protection for menopausal women. The Women and Equalities Committee is conducting an inquiry into the treatment of menopausal women in the workplace. As part of the inquiry, the committee is considering how Government policy can better support menopausal women and whether the menopause should be made a protected characteristic.

Could I introduce a menopause policy to support my employees?

In many workplaces the menopause is still taboo, causing many women to suffer in silence rather than disclose to their employer what they are going through. It is therefore essential that you foster a workplace culture where employees feel comfortable discussing the menopause with you or their manager and are confident that they will not be ridiculed or subjected to a detriment.

Having a menopause policy may help break the silence around the menopause in your workplace by showing your employees that you care about their wellbeing and by giving them an avenue to broach the subject to you or their manager. You could also incorporate the menopause into your sickness and flexible working policies.

Where an employee has disclosed they are experiencing symptoms of the menopause, you must treat this disclosure with confidentiality and only disclose it to another where necessary and preferably with the employee’s consent. Ensure that you properly understand their symptoms and discuss possible measures you could put in place to alleviate them. Symptoms can change over time so make sure you regularly communicate with the employee to ensure any adjustments you have made still meet their needs.

There are several adjustments you could make for employees experiencing menopause symptoms including:

  • providing a desk fan or adjusting the air conditioning;
  • ensuring easy access to cold drinking water;
  • allowing flexible working, including adjusted hours or working from home;
  • providing frequent rest breaks, and quiet rest areas;
  • adjusting the uniform, such as allowing lighter fabrics.

It is important that your managers understand the menopause and their obligations towards your employees. You should ensure that any equality and diversity training you provide covers the menopause, its symptoms, and what adjustments can be made for employees.

Employers should work to break down the taboo surrounding menopause in the workplace, lest they risk losing some of their most skilled and experienced employees. If you are looking for assistance in drafting a menopause policy or have any questions about your responsibilities contact our Employment Law Team on 023 8071 7717 or email employment@warnergoodman.co.uk.

To receive regular Employment Law updates from the team regarding recent tribunal cases and legislation updates, you can subscribe to our weekly Employment Law Newsletter by completing our subscription form or emailing us at events@warnergoodman.co.uk

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.