How can employers better support their employees through the Menopause?
No longer a taboo subject for women of ‘a certain age’ the Menopause can cause a range of physical and or psychological symptoms from hot flushes, sleep disruption to anxiety and poor concentration. Typically affecting women aged 45 and above, the symptoms can last for a number of years, so it is important that employers consider how they can best support their employees with the symptoms.
A recent survey in a report by the Fawcett Society of 4,000 women commissioned for a Channel 4 documentary by Davina McCall found:
- 8/10 menopausal women said their workplace had no basic support in place.
- 41% said menopause symptoms were treated as a joke by colleagues.
- 44% said their ability to work had been affected by their symptoms.
- 22% of disabled women were leaving their jobs due to their symptoms compared to 9% of non-disabled women.
- Many women said they had taken time off work due to the menopause, but 39% cited depression or anxiety as the reason rather than share their menopause status.
With the retirement age for many women now at 68, women are working for a longer period during and after the menopause, possibly without any workplace support at all. All this despite a government report showing menopausal women are the fastest-growing workforce demographic in the UK. At a time when many business sectors face a shortage of skilled staff, it’s important that all working groups are supported to enable them to stay in the workforce for as long as they choose to.
There is currently no employment legislation which specifically relates to the Menopause but under the Equality Act 2010 Menopause discrimination may be covered by the protected characteristics of age, sex and/or disability discrimination.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 may also provide some protection to employees whose health concerns are not being appropriately managed by their employer.
A recent ruling in Rooney V Leicester City Council found an employment tribunal had wrongly decided the claimant (who had very debilitating menopausal symptoms) was not disabled. The case highlights the difficulty in bringing cases under the existing legal framework but the number is slowly rising. In 2019 there were just six claims where the menopause was cited as a reason, followed by 16 in 2020 and in the first six months of 2022 there has been 10 claims.
To avoid potential tribunal claims employers should consider how they can better support employees which could include:
- Raising awareness through training sessions to help employees better understand the symptoms and issues, to encourage managers to deal with menopause issues more sensitively and encourage employees to be more open and speak about them.
- Develop and implement a workplace menopause policy which details the support available to employees and the reasonable adjustments which could be made to support them.
- Risk assessments including looking at the work environment and whether buildings could be better ventilated and temperatures controlled for women to help deal with symptoms such as hot flushes.
- A support network within the business to enable women to talk about this and other health issues that they might be uncomfortable about speaking to a line manager about.
Whatever you choose to do as an employer, the menopause is something which all women experience. Demonstrating your commitment to raising awareness of it and supporting them in the workplace will also help to single you out as a more responsible and caring employer, at a time when they need your support.