How good is your company at supporting employees through the menopause?
The menopause is not a topic that everyone feels at ease discussing. Yet being aware of its implications is essential for every employer. For example, did you know that an employment tribunal ruling has resulted in it being classified as a disability? In December last year, a tribunal examined the case of a 51 year old woman who was suffering with a range of menopause-related symptoms. Physically, that included night sweats, hot flushes and headaches. Mentally, she was struggling with anxiety, panic attacks and problems with concentration amongst a range of other problems. While she did have other health conditions, her symptoms were mainly due to the menopause.
Her case was focused on the fact that she claimed her employer hadn’t made reasonable adjustments to help her – but that raised the question of whether she actually had a disability. That question was considered at a preliminary hearing and the conclusion was drawn that as she did have a physical or mental impairment with a substantial and long-term adverse effect on her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities then it was indeed a disability.
What does that mean for you as an employer?
When supporting employees through the menopause employers need to make sure they are responsive to the requirement to make any reasonable adjustments that are necessary. The implications of getting it wrong are significant. As this article that we wrote in 2019 explains, there are considerable risks associated with employers not taking steps to help anyone suffering with symptoms. As well as disability discrimination, a failure to act could lead to other forms of discrimination and unfair dismissal claims as well (and note that the award amounts have increased since we wrote the article too).
What should you do as part of supporting employees through the menopause?
As an employer, you need to be ready to make reasonable adjustments to working arrangements as required by women and any other employees, such as non-binary individuals, who will be affected by this stage of life.
Don’t underestimate the extent to which the menopause can cause them disruption and distress; the physical symptoms can be accompanied by a general loss of confidence in their ability to do their job, along with feeling stressed, anxious and depressed. When supporting employees through the menopause, consider how difficult it can potentially be for a woman to open up about the situation; after all, when you’re struggling emotionally, the last thing you need hanging over you is the prospect of having what you perceive is going to be an embarrassing conversation at work about why you’re not performing in the way you would like to. It can feel really uncomfortable having to initiate a conversation about it.
Creating a menopause policy
In supporting employees through the menopause a policy is an important step that can help significantly. While it’s not a legal requirement in itself, the existence of a menopause policy paves the way for a woman to be able to open up a discussion about any problems she might be experiencing and any help she needs.
The policy can outline the role of different people who she can talk to (ideally give some choice – the employee might feel uneasy if the only option is her line manager), along with examples of the kind of workplace support available and adjustments that can potentially be made to help someone experiencing troublesome symptoms. There are all kinds of steps that can be taken: for instance, temporary core hour adjustments or more flexible working patterns. The provision of a quiet place, fans on desks and fresh air can be beneficial. It can be as simple as enabling the provision of access to toilet facilities as and when needed rather than only at set breaks. The nature and extent of what is needed will vary but it’s important that the woman knows she can approach her employer and talk to them about it.
The existence of a policy is an important step forward, but it also needs to become part of your culture to help women feel that it’s ok to talk about the menopause. Actively communicate the fact that the policy exists. Set up training to make sure your line managers are aware of, and comfortable with, the fact that they need to be able to help an employee who is experiencing problems and handle conversations and health and safety assessments with sensitivity. Consider whether it could be referenced throughout other procedures too. And perhaps think about whether taking a more holistic approach could diffuse some of the awkwardness. We’re all becoming increasingly comfortable with talking about our personal needs when it comes to physical and mental health – so why not simply make the menopause one part of the bigger conversation about wellbeing at work?
Would you like some further guidance on supporting employees through the menopause?
You’ll find useful guidance aimed at helping line managers from the CIPD here. Dr. Louise Newson is an expert in the field of menopause and has resources which you can access here. And if you would like some help drafting your menopause policy, and/or advice on how best to implement it in your company please do get in touch with us for a chat.