The Government Equalities Office published a report in 2017 (Menopause transition: effects on women’s economic participation, 2017) which recognised that more people than ever before are experiencing the menopause transition during their career.
Menopause doesn’t only affect people during the natural ageing process, it can happen as early as 20 for various reasons, including if someone has had certain medical conditions and health treatment, such as an oophorectomy, a surgery that removes the ovaries (known as surgical menopause).
For those who don’t understand the symptoms, they do have a significant impact on a person’s ability to perform as usual in the workplace. Symptoms include both physical and psychological symptoms such as hot flushes, heavy periods and headaches but also memory loss, depression, anxiety and confusion.
In October 2019, Acas published new guidance on Menopause at work to assist both employers and workers about how best to handle menopause-related issues in the workplace.
You can find the guidance here.
I have summarised some useful tips from the guidance below:
- Ensure that there are adequate toilets, sanitary and washroom facilities;
- Ensure that there is cold drinking water available the temperature is comfortable and not extreme;
- Make sure there is someone that workers can talk to other than their immediate line manager e.g. a human resources professional or a wellbeing champion within the team;
- Closely monitor dips in performance;
- Do not penalise for menopause-related sickness absence;
- Ensure that line managers are regularly conducting their one-to-one meetings (in private) to give workers the opportunity to raise personal issues;
This guidance includes a specific recommendation that employers should implement a specific menopause policy setting out how staff can raise issues relating to the menopause and how these issues will be handled when raised.
We are able to provide a policy suitable for all organisations that can be implemented across your organisation. For our Watertight clients, please contact us to request a copy of this for free to insert into your Staff Handbook.
Having the conversation. Should I offer to make adjustments and if so, what should they look like?
Employers should never ask a worker if they are ‘menopausal’. Instead, it is best to say ‘is there anything that you think I should know about?’
The subject of adjustments is best approached following concerns about wellbeing, performance, conduct or sickness absence which you think may be attributed to something like the menopause or something else more long-standing.
Adjustments don’t need to be onerous and don’t need to be permanent. Line managers should always implement review periods. Acas suggest the following adjustments which I would endorse:
- Providing a fan;
- Allowing the worker to take breaks when needed;
- Providing a private area where the worker can rest for a while to help manage their symptoms;
- Moving the worker’s desk close to a window that opens;
- Being flexible where possible over the worker’s start and finish times to help them manage their symptoms;
- Allowing them to work from home when practical;
- Allowing the worker time off either unpaid or as annual leave at the last minute if they cannot carry on working that day.
If adjustments are needed in response to persistent sickness absence, then you should seek advice on making adjustments alongside a formal sickness absence procedure.
Sickness absence due to the menopause
Sickness absence should always be treated equally, whether physical or psychological illness. It’s a popular misconception that if symptoms are psychological then the worker is ‘untouchable’. Open communication should always be encouraged but not forced and the employee should always be the one to specifically tell you they are going through the menopause rather than being asked.
Sickness absence should still be managed appropriately and where you think there is a disability, adjustments should be made to accommodate this. This applies to menopause too.
Line managers should ensure they ask employees the symptoms they are suffering from during return to work interviews and any sickness absence meetings, to actively encourage the worker to be as open as possible and to identify where potential adjustments might need to be made if the absence is persistent due to the same symptoms.
Menopause and the law
Menopause is not specifically protected under the Equality Act 2010 however workers are protected against unfair treatment due to sex, disability and age.
Further, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 says an employer must, where reasonably practical, ensure health, safety and welfare at work.
Any unwanted comments, jokes or banter relating to menopause would be highly likely to amount to harassment or sexual harassment.
For further advice or information about the risk of discrimination or harassment due to menopause, or generally about handling menopause within the workplace, get in touch with us to see how we can help you.
Likewise, if you are an employee reading this article for guidance on your employer’s obligations and you feel you have been treated unfairly – get in touch with us for a conversation in confidence for support and advice on your legal position.
If you would like a copy of the Menopause in the workplace policy, please contact us today.