As the effects of the menopause become more widely recognised and understood, pressure is increasing on employers to do more to support their employees. The Countess of Wessex recently spoke out, backing the Wellbeing of Women charity’s campaign to get employers to better support women going through the menopause:
‘We cannot let anybody leave the workforce unfulfilled and also feeling that they have got to slope off into the shadows. It’s not right and we’ve got to be able to change that.‘ she said.
This marked another moment for those who have been calling for change, and for those experiencing the effects of this hitherto taboo biological process.
There is still a long way to go until the workplace is truly on board with the need to adjust the working environment and attitudes to those who have reached the menopause or peri-menopause. This may be partly due to employers not fully understanding what they could be doing to help make work more inclusive at this significant stage in life. Do employers know what practical steps they could take – and in many cases, small changes they could make – to dramatically improve things for these employees?
As is often the case, ACAS guidance is a good starting point. It sets out some useful suggestions that employers should easily be able to implement. I’ve summarised some of these here:
Managers should be trained to:
- talk and listen sensitively
- find ways to give support
- know about the menopause and its effects
- know what support and guidance the organisation can offer
Employees may be more confident to speak to managers about the effect the menopause is having on them at work if they know managers have had this training.
ACAS emphasises that all managers, supervisors and team leaders should understand:
- how to talk with and encourage staff to raise any concerns about the menopause
- how different stages and symptoms of menopause can affect staff
- what support and workplace changes are available
- how to deal sensitively and fairly with menopause issues
- gender identity and gender reassignment discrimination and how it’s important to talk to staff about this (remember that trans people, intersex people and those who identify as non-binary can experience menopause symptoms)
- the law relating to the menopause
It’s really important to communicate well (and privately) with staff who are going through the menopause, so that their needs are properly understood – ideally before problems arise. However, managers should let the employee lead the conversation and decide how much they want to say. Avoid asking the employee if they want to talk about the menopause, or suggest what symptoms they might be having. Sensitivity is key.
Health and safety risk assessments
In your risk assessments, specifically (and regularly) consider conditions for staff affected by the menopause. You should be making sure that menopause symptoms are not made worse by the workplace or work practices. Also that you make changes to help staff manage their symptoms when they’re doing their job. Some things ACAS recommends taking into account are:
- temperature and ventilation
- the material and the fit of the organisation’s uniform
- whether there’s somewhere suitable for staff to rest
- the availability of cold drinking water
You should have a specific policy so that everyone in the organisation understands what the menopause is, its effects, and the support that’s available. Your policy is a way of communicating the practical measures that are in place to help, as well as your overarching open and sensitive approach to menopause issues.
Absence and performance
Employers should be prepared to make changes so that employees can continue to work. Discuss reasonable adjustments. In assessing performance, take into consideration issues that might be related to menopause symptoms. You should consider recording menopause-related sickness absence separately from other absence, to avoid the risk of unfairness or discrimination when considering a person’s overall attendance, as depending on the severity of the symptoms the menopause could be a disability. It’s also good practice – and something that may be written into policies – for employees to be given time off to go to menopause-related medical appointments.
A menopause or wellbeing champion can be a useful point of contact for employees who need someone to talk to. (Sometimes, an employee may not be comfortable speaking to their manager.) Champions can also play an important role in helping raise awareness, overseeing risk assessments, and otherwise supporting employees who need it.
To speak to us about your employment issues, whether to do with strategic business decisions or a particular issue involving an employee, get in touch with Angie Crush or another member of our Employment Law team on 020 7377 2829.