Following ‘menopause awareness month’ in October, businesses are adopting more policies and processes in their business to better support employees suffering from menopause symptoms. For example, cereals manufacturer Kellogg's announced that they will provide more support to staff experiencing the menopause. Their spokesman said the firm wanted to ‘break the silence on issues often not discussed in the workplace’. In October, Holland and Barrett became founding partners of GenM, an organisation that encourages brands to recognise and respond to the needs of perimenopausal and menopausal women. They join high street retailers Boots and Marks and Spencers as partners of the organisation.
This news came shortly after an employee in Wales was disciplined for taking too much time off work due to menopause sickness, which has prompted debates in the house of commons for a UK-wide strategy on menopause support to be created. The Welsh government has already said last month that menstrual wellbeing ‘would be taught in schools’. A cut to the cost of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) prescription, saving women around £200 a year, was also announced last month.
The ongoing stigma and lack of education around menopause can cause many issues for business owners and HR professionals, as the lack of awareness and transparency of the subject can cause bullying and harassment. Discrimination and harassment at work can worsen menopausal symptoms of anxiety and stress.
Currently, there are 15.5m menopausal women in the UK, and 88% of these would like workplaces to be better set up to support menopausal women. 90% of menopausal women believe businesses should be working harder to be inclusive and cater to their needs and symptoms.
Under the Equality Act 2010, inappropriate and insensitive handling of the menopause could be considered as indirect sex and/or age discrimination. In addition, severe menopausal symptoms could constitute a disability, invoking the protections associated with disability discrimination.
As a business owner, you have a responsibility and duty to make reasonable adjustments for all employees who are classified as disabled and protect them from less favourable treatment. If you don’t, you risk the situation leading to an employment tribunal claim, as well as potential reputational damage and employee relations issues.
Aside from the discrimination, business owners may also risk losing valuable talent in their business if they don’t support their menopausal employees. As most women will experience menopausal symptoms at some stage, it’s good practice for businesses to do as much as possible to support menopausal employees to retain staff and to become more attractive to valuable talent in the future.
What can businesses do to become ‘menopause friendly’?
- Understand your role as a line manager - It’s important that line managers understand that it’s their responsibility to support their employees with health issues. Menopause is no exception. They will likely be the first point of contact when an employee has a health concern. Effective management of team members with menopausal symptoms that are impacting on their work will help you to improve your team’s morale, retain valuable skills and talent and reduce sickness absence.
- Promote open and honest conversations - Menopause can affect your employees’ confidence, so they will likely find it very daunting talking to someone who has no knowledge/awareness of the subject. Whilst it’s a sensitive and personal subject, it’s important that businesses create an open and honest space for employees to discuss their health issues. Promote an ‘open door’ policy, where an employee can have private and confidential discussions regarding personal matters. And ‘check in’ with employees who you know are suffering from menopause symptoms, especially if they are working remotely, and make sure they feel supported.
- Training and awareness – Training for managers is vital if they are to be equipped with the knowledge to be able to support a colleague in menopause. Line managers don’t need to be medical experts, nor should they be. A good level of knowledge, understanding how they can support and how to have a good, supportive conversation makes a big difference. The training your managers receive should be geared towards changing their levels of knowledge and awareness about menopause, attitudes toward menopause, confidence in talking about menopause, considering and (where appropriate) making reasonable adjustments to an employee’s role or working environment, and also challenging beliefs and barriers around talking about it at work.
- Manage performance effectively - If an employee’s performance is suffering, it’s important to help find the cause. Menopausal symptoms can be so serious that they affect an employee’s performance at work. It’s in everyone’s interest to discuss potential adjustments that could help the individual perform to their full potential. This should be done proactively, as and when the issue arises. Where there are suspected or known health issues, these should be explored, prior to any formal processes for underperformance.
- Risk assessments and appropriate adjustments – As an employer, you have a legal duty to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of your workplace risks to the health and safety of your employees. This includes making adjustments for women who are experiencing menopausal symptoms. You should consider the specific needs of menopausal women and ensure that the working environment will not worsen their symptoms. Simple changes to an employee’s role or working environment can help ensure that the menopause does not become a barrier to their performance. You can find guidance on carrying out risk assessments here.
- Introducing a menopause at work policy – It is considered good practice to introduce a menopause policy to help raise awareness of the menopause and its impact in the workplace. As well as signposting relevant advice and assistance to anyone who needs it, it also helps to facilitate open conversations between managers and staff and demonstrate the commitment to supporting staff who are affected by the menopause.
Proactively managing the effects of menopause on your business and your employees can help reduce employee relations issues. Short-term investment can prevent long-term issues. When making any major changes or introducing new policies that affect your workforce, it’s always advised to seek legal support in order to protect your business interests.
If you have any questions or concerns about the effect of the menopause on your business or your employees and/or you would like assistance in drafting a menopause at work policy, you can get impartial and professional advice from one of our employment law solicitors.
You can find further employment law advice on the Growth Hub section of our website. Additional information, training and toolkits as well as details about how your organisation can become menopause friendly certified can be found on the Menopause Friendly Accredition website.