The Department for Work and Pensions recently called on employers to strengthen their support of the careers of women who suffer from serious menopause symptoms.
Menopausal women have in recent years been found to be the fastest growing workforce demographic and whilst some women can go through the menopause with barely a symptom, it is not an easy transition for all, with one in four experiencing severe symptoms which impact on their day-to-day life.
Menopause symptoms can be both physical and psychological. The symptoms can have a significant impact on daily life for some women, with common symptoms including hot flushes, poor concentration, difficulty sleeping, headaches and depression and anxiety.
The issue was further highlighted by the recent findings of the Women and Equalities Committee’s (WEC) inquiry into menopause in the workplace. The WEC found that nearly a third of women (31%) have missed work because of their menopause symptoms. Only 11% of women who responded had asked for workplace adjustments – the small percentage being for a combination of reasons such as concern about how others would react and not knowing who they should speak to about adjustments. Where adjustments had been requested, flexible working and temperature control were the most common requests (43% and 36% respectively).
Solutions are in easy reach for many employers and often include practical adjustments. There does nevertheless appear to be a general need to increase understanding and support around the menopause within the workplace, with the WEC finding only 29% of the women who participated in the survey as feeling supported by their line managers.
The menopause is currently not a specific protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA). However, subject to the severity, if the symptoms have a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on a woman’s ability to carry out her day-to-day activities, it could be found to satisfy the definition of disability under the EqA, which would give rise to a duty on the employer to make reasonable adjustments.
In addition to disability as a protected characteristic, employees or workers who are treated less favourably or disadvantaged because of their menopause symptoms may also be protected against discrimination based on their age and sex.
Things for employers to consider
There are various ways in which employers can support staff through the menopause, which can include:
- Menopause Policy – Employers are now including a menopause policy within their staff handbook to raise awareness of the menopause and its impact in the workplace, encourage open conversations between management and staff and to direct staff to relevant advice and assistance.
- Access to support – Having a nominated person in HR or within the Occupational Health team, or even a named “Menopause Champion” can be useful to encourage conversations with staff to understand their needs and provide support.
- Training – Providing training to managers to support a better understanding of the menopause and its impact on work can equip line managers to have more effective conversations with staff, as well as having a greater awareness of the support that can be provided.
- Reasonable adjustments – Allowing workplace adjustments can help staff through their menopausal transition, and may include flexible working, allowing time off for health appointments or more breaks. It can also include changes to the physical work environment e.g., temperature control.