The menopause and protection in the workplace

There is growing awareness of the importance of addressing the approach in the workplace to the menopause. Richard Neary, Partner, looks at some of the issues that employers will need to consider.

The subject of the menopause in the workplace is being debated in Parliament and there is some appetite for producing legislation to specifically support those going through the menopause who may be dealing with symptoms such as anxiety, depression, memory loss and fatigue. One in four women going through the menopause requires significant support to maintain usual performance at work due to the severity of her symptoms. The NHS lists a number of common symptoms, many of which could impact an individual in the workplace such as hot flushes, difficulty sleeping, problems with memory and concentration, headaches, mood changes and anxiety, palpitations, joint stiffness, aches and pains , reduced muscle mass and recurrent UTIs. Some employers are ahead of the curve and have produced menopause policies and have introduced practices that will support staff and up-skill managers to handle situations with due care and attention.

There is a growing demographic of women between 45 and 60 in the workplace so there is some urgency for employers to get on top of this. Clearly, there is legal risk in getting this wrong as employers may expose themselves to potential sex, age and/or disability discrimination claims (amongst others) if they take action against employees and have not considered the appropriate support, flexibility, adjustments and accommodations. Severe symptoms of menopause may meet the statutory definition of "disabled" under the Equality Act 2010, meaning that employers would be under a duty to make reasonable adjustments for those women. Further, policies relating to performance management run the risk of indirectly discriminating against women who, amongst other symptoms, are having difficulty concentrating at work. However, the primary focus ought not to be on risk avoidance but instead on creating workplaces within which employees in all circumstances may thrive and feel that they can talk openly about issues facing them without concerns about not being taken seriously, or being marginalised.

It is anticipated that this will be a subject of increasing importance and publicity over the coming months and so employers should think carefully about raising it high up the strategic HR agenda and addressing it in the near term. Employers should be proactive in implementing policies designed to assist women, outlining necessary adjustments and encouraging conversations. For instance, depending on the symptoms experienced, provision of a suitable work area and flexible working arrangements can benefit individuals with managing their symptoms. However, given that there is no uniform experience, it is important to communicate with employees on an individual basis in order to identify how assistance can be provided. Specific training for staff in management roles, coupled with measures to raise awareness of the menopause, can help to foster an inclusive and empathetic workforce.

Foot Anstey's Management Development Training Program includes an awareness session on this important area. In addition, we are receiving an increasing number of enquiries and requests for advice on this topic and assistance with drafting policies and we anticipate that this will continue as employers recognise the supportive role that they can play.

For more information, please get in touch with Richard Neary, Partner on +44 117 915 4915 or [email protected].