Managing Menopause In the Workplace in 2024
Managing Menopause In the Workplace in 2024
22nd January 2024, 11:15 am
Menopause, menstruation or periods are words which are becoming less ‘taboo’ in today’s modern workplace. However, countries like Japan and South Korea have provided women with the right to take menstrual leave since the 1940’s/50’s.
As recently as 2023, Spain produced a draft bill proposing paid menstrual leave (potentially three days per month) making it the first Western country to do so. In Britain, the British Standards Institute, the UK’s national standards body has recently provided a standard on menstruation, menstrual health, and menopause in the workplace (BS 30416) which came into effect on 31 May 2023. The Western world is finally beginning to wake up, as female employees and workers demand to be considered and protected for the natural phases in life which affect them.
Our top tips below will help employers to support employees with menopausal symptoms, navigate communication around menopause and ensure that the business is well placed in the new 2024 workplace.
1. What is menopause?
Before a business can implement much needed guidance in the workplace surrounding women’s health, it is important that all individuals in the business understand what menopause is and how it can affect them or their colleagues.
The menopause is a natural stage of life which affects women. Menopause usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55 but it can affect some people a lot earlier.
There are 3 different stages to the menopause: –
· Perimenopause – when there are symptoms of menopause, but the individual is still having a menstrual cycle. (Perimenopause ends and menopause begins when the last menstrual cycle was 12 months ago).
· Post menopause.
Whilst most women are affected by menopause, it can also affect those people who have menstrual cycles which can include transgender individuals and people with variations of sex development.
Some people might experience medical menopause earlier in their lives when they have certain surgeries, or unfortunately have received chemotherapy or simply due to genetic reasons. All types of menopause must be considered when supporting individuals in a workplace environment.
Menopause and perimenopause symptoms can have a big impact on daily life, including relationships, social life, family life and work. Menopausal symptoms can vary from person to person and range from very mild to severe. Although menopausal symptoms generally end several years after someone’s last menstrual cycle, symptoms can persist for varying lengths of time.
Examples of Menopausal symptoms include (but are not limited to):
· changes to mood, for example but not limited to low mood, anxiety, mood swings and low self-esteem.
· problems with memory or concentration.
· hot flushes, sudden feelings of hot or cold in the face, neck and chest which can cause dizziness.
· difficulty sleeping, which may be a result of night sweats which could lead to fatigue, irritability, and headaches.
· muscle aches and joint pains, skin changes including dry and itchy skin.
· changed body shape and weight gain.
It is estimated that there are around 4.5 million women employed across the UK who are at menopausal age. This age range is becoming the most rapidly increasing group within the UK workforce, and unfortunately, many women leave work due to menopausal symptoms and mismanagement of their care needs.
2. Is menopause protected under the Equality Act 2010?
Menopause itself is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 (“EA 2010”). However, those employees or workers who have been disadvantaged or treated less favourably because of their Menopause or menopausal symptoms could potentially make a claim for discrimination under other protected characteristics within the EA 2010 such as age, disability, gender reassignment and/or sex.
For example, employees and workers are protected from being put at a disadvantage or treated less favourably because of their age, as the Menopause is usually related to a certain age range (however there are instances where this can be triggered earlier as detailed above), businesses could be exposed in this area, if no consideration in this area is given.
3. Educate the whole workforce by talking to employees about Menopause.
Ensure employees and workers who may be going through the menopause feel seen, heard, and understood and know what support is available to them in their organisation.
Employers/managers could invite staff to talk with them privately if they are being affected by menopause in relation to their work.
Any private conversations with staff surrounding menopausal issues must be kept strictly confidential. Employers should encourage employees and workers to provide as much detail as they are comfortable sharing so that agreed reasonable adjustments can be considered by a business (if any).
Organisations should ensure that managers and HR departments are trained via experts in the area on talking about Menopause and understand what it is and how it can affect people in the workplace, so that they might spot an individual that is struggling.
Include everyone, younger female employees as well as men need to be educated in Menopause as they will be working alongside individuals that maybe struggling with menopausal symptoms. It’s important all employees feel armed with knowledge to help them cope with their working environment as well as support their fellow colleagues.
4. Supporting employees through menopause
Following any discussion with an employee suffering with menopausal symptoms, I would encourage employers to try and agree a plan of reasonable adjustments that may help the employee with their working day.
Examples of reasonable adjustments can include but are not limited to:
· Change or reduce working hours.
· Flexible hours where possible.
· Adjustments of unforms.
· Providing rest or quiet areas, or additional breaks.
Any changes to the employees’ term and conditions of employment should be agreed in writing, and frequently monitored and discussed with the employee, as some reasonable adjustments may work effectively, and some could have more of a detrimental impact. Neither party will know until any reasonable adjustments are tried.
5. Developing a menopause policy
To facilitate a fair and consistent approach, companies should develop a menopause policy to provide clear and consistent guidelines across departments. It is good practice to consult with the employees who could be impacted (the consultation group should include representation from a range of employees in different roles, including representation of the demographics of each organisation).
The menopause policy should as a minimum include:
· An explanation of what menopause is and how it affects people differently, highlighting that different people may require different support.
· Advise what employees can do if they require support, including a main point of contact.
· Inform the workforce of what support is available to those affected by menopause and menopausal symptoms.
· Refer to any sickness absence due to menopause and what allowances are allowed (if any).
· Confirm what time off could be available for medical appointments due menopausal symptoms (if any).
6. Other factors to consider.
Individuals who are not employed by an organisation may still bring a claim for discrimination. Employers must be careful to ensure that their practices surrounding job advertisements and interviewing processes do not disadvantage applicants because of menopausal symptoms.
Examples of areas to consider during the recruitment process in relation to menopausal candidates are for example but not limited to:-
· Changing the job description or design – discriminatory wording should be avoided when relaying the job description.
· Tests – employers should think about their method of assessment and if it is fair to all groups.
· Interviews – Employers should take steps to prevent candidates from being disadvantaged, and provide reasonable adjustments, if possible, for example having cold water at hand, adequate air flow, allowing bathroom breaks.
7. Seek legal advice and expertise.
Despite Menopause being a natural process that women go through, legally it is an emerging area, and therefore it is vital for businesses to ensure that independent legal advice is obtained if an issue arises. Here at JMW Solicitors Employment team in Manchester we are dealing with cases around Menopause more and more, its therefore imperative for a business to obtain bespoke advice based on the circumstances of that businesses particular case.