New guidance for menopause in the workplace: what should employers be doing?

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The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has issued guidance regarding the legal obligations that employers need to adhere to in order to support workers going through the menopause. We explore the issues here.

The background

The guidance provides practical tips for employers in order to make adjustments in the workplace and create a comfortable environment for those going through the menopause.

This announcement comes on the back of EHRC research showing that many women report having experienced negative impacts of menopausal symptoms in the workplace, and in some cases needed to leave their jobs as a result.

Despite the sizeable impact menopausal symptoms can have on women in the workplace, few workers actually request workplace adjustments at the time, often due to concerns about the potential reactions they may get to their request.

Additional research from CIPD reaffirms the issues that the menopause can cause for those dealing with the symptoms when it comes to work:

  • 27% of women in the UK who are currently in employment between the ages of 40-60 and have experienced menopause symptoms say that menopause has had a negative impact on their career progression.
  • 67% of women who have experience of menopausal symptoms say they have had a negative impact on them at work, including feeling less able to concentrate and an increased amount of stress.

Current legal requirements for employers

Currently, menopause is not in itself a specific protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. However, if menopausal symptoms have a ‘substantial’ and ‘long term’ adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out their normal day-to-day activities, it could be found to be defined as disability under the Act.

Additionally, where employees are treated less favourably or disadvantaged because of their menopause symptoms, they may also be protected against discrimination based on their sex and potentially age, although women can go through menopause much earlier than the ages of 45 and 55 (the age range that the NHS identifies as the time the menopause starts for most women).

What the guidance suggests

The guidance from the EHRC suggests the following steps which can be taken to improve working conditions for those with menopausal symptoms:

  • introducing workplace cooling systems and/ or fans for those suffering from hot flushes;
  • providing quiet breakout areas where employees can go if they are experiencing symptoms;
  • relaxing workplace uniform policies where they exist or allowing them to wear cooler clothing;
  • promoting flexibility regarding working location, for instance working from home (if feasible) when necessary;
  • varying shift patterns such as varying start and finish times.

What else employers can be doing

There are multiple ways in which employers can support employees who are experiencing menopausal symptoms, including:

  1. Having a menopause policy – employers are now increasingly introducing a menopause policy within their staff handbook in order to raise awareness of it and the impact it can have in the workplace. This helps to encourage open conversations between management and staff, as well as ensuring employees know where to go to for relevant support.
  2. Having access to support – having a nominated person in HR or a specific ‘menopause champion’, can be useful in order to encourage conversations with employees and in turn understand their needs and offer support.
  3. Training – providing training for line managers to create a better understanding of menopause and its impact on employees in the workplace can ensure line managers are able to have more effective conversations with their team members, as well as having a greater awareness of the support that the organisation can provide.

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