With the news that the Civil Service has signed up to the Menopause Workplace Pledge, we bring you our guide on how to support staff through the menopause. Given that a significant proportion of the population will be affected by the menopause during their working life, it’s surprising that there is not more open conversation about the menopause and how to manage it. If you haven’t already baked these considerations into your policies and workplace culture, now is a great time to start.
Who might need support through the menopause
A much wider range of people might be affected by the menopause than you think. Although it most commonly affects women aged between 45 and 55, anyone with a menstrual cycle can be affected at any age. For example, certain surgeries, medical conditions or chemotherapy can trigger the menopause in women and a trans man may also experience perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms. It’s also important to remember that men could be supporting people going through the menopause so they should also be included as appropriate.
Discrimination and the menopause
If you don’t deal with issues related to the menopause carefully in your workplace, you could potentially be discriminating against staff on multiple grounds. The menopause itself is not specifically listed as a ground for discrimination in the Equality Act 2010, but it is sufficiently related to four different grounds (age, sex, disability and gender reassignment) that it could found a claim in discrimination if you do not deal with it properly. You must be careful not to:
- treat someone less favourably because they are going through the menopause, or
- fail to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the symptoms of menopause, putting the person concerned at a disadvantage.
Either of these could form the basis of a claim for discrimination by an aggrieved employee.
Practical ways to support staff through the menopause
There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution as the menopause affects people differently, with a wide variety of symptoms. It can last for months or years. Some of the most common symptoms are:
- hot flushes;
- difficulty sleeping;
- heart palpitations;
- problems with memory or concentration;
- worsening headaches and migraines;
- muscle aches and joint pain;
- recurrent UTIs; and
- low mood and anxiety.
It is always important to handle matters relating to the health of your staff carefully. When considering how to support staff through the menopause, think about how you could help alleviate these sorts of effects and discuss with them where appropriate. For example, you might make adjustments to dress codes and/or uniforms (eg to make these cooler and more comfortable), or allow flexible start times to help those who are having difficulty sleeping at night.
One of the best things you can do (as recommended by ACAS) is to foster an open environment where staff feel comfortable addressing any difficulties they might be experiencing, rather than suffering in silence. You should train your managers and team leaders to make sure they know how to deal with menopause issues in a sensitive and fair way. Not only can creating this type of environment help you to know what reasonable adjustments are needed and keep track of whether your staff are productive and happy, it can also help to reduce some menopause symptoms such as low mood and anxiety. Engaging with your staff early can also help head off serious difficulties for your business, such as the staff member starting a grievance or even bringing a claim for discrimination – both much more likely if your staff don’t feel that their concerns are being noticed and addressed.
Dealing with time off work
Respond sensitively to staff members who are off work because they are suffering from symptoms related to the menopause or perimenopause. Make sure you keep any staff medical information secure and confidential, and comply with your data protection obligations for using sensitive personal data. It’s also good practice to be flexible and supportive if a staff member needs time off to attend medical appointments related to the menopause; see our Q&A on Time off for medical appointments and emergencies for further guidance on your legal obligations.
ACAS recommends that you record sickness absences related to menopause symptoms separately from other absences in your staff members’ attendance records. This is because in some circumstances it could be discriminatory to include these absences in your staff member’s overall attendance statistics.
For guidance on how to deal with sickness absence, see our Q&A here.
Helen Turnbull is Head of Strategic Development for the Marketplace at FromCounsel, the specialist corporate legal resource trusted by top global law firms and FTSE 100 companies. Before joining FromCounsel in 2021, Helen was Head of Content at Sparqa Legal. Having previously spent 12 years practising as a commercial and property law barrister, Helen regularly contributes her expertise to Sparqa’s blog.