Managing the menopause at work

The onus is on employers to support female employees struggling with symptoms, says Alex Christen

Usually occurring between the ages of 45 and 55, the menopause often has a detrimental effect on a woman’s day-to-day life. What’s more, its effects can vary between individuals making it harder to identify. According to the NHS website, common symptoms include hot flushes, difficulty sleeping, low mood, anxiety and problems with memory and concentration.

What does the law say?

An employer has a duty to protect the health and wellbeing of its workforce and must not behave in a way that may undermine the implied duty of trust and confidence.

So far in the UK, only two cases have been brought in relation to the menopause. In both cases, the tribunal held in favour of the claimants – one successfully claimed direct sex discrimination, and the other, disability-related discrimination. While unbinding, these cases are a reminder to employers to set and follow procedures to avoid potential claims.

Other types of claims that could potentially arise include indirect sex and disability discrimination; sex, disability and age-related harassment; victimisation; failure to make reasonable adjustments; and unfair dismissal.

Businesses that fail to provide adequate support to their female employees through the menopause also risk losing valuable talent to other employers that do.  

The menopause has been called the ‘last taboo’ by some, and issues associated with it are gathering the attention of policymakers. Last year, MPs called for new legal protections, including statutory rights to seek flexible working and time off as a result of its symptoms. Little has yet been done, but this does not mean that employers should ignore it. 

What should employers do?

Businesses should effectively educate their staff, particularly those in management positions, and provide the necessary training to help employees to understand what the menopause is, how it presents and how to deal with the symptoms.

Having employee representatives ensures there is a point of contact for open and honest discussions between employer and employee. Implementing these steps should improve the working environment and help to accommodate women experiencing the menopause.

In October last year, Acas published a guide, Menopause at work, suggesting how employers and employees should handle menopause-related issues in the workplace. In particular, the guide recommended that businesses have menopause policies setting out how staff can raise issues and how employers will handle them. 

What about working from home?

It may be helpful for those going through the menopause to work from home. Making this adjustment will enable staff to change clothes easily, regulate their temperature more effectively, and allow them to make the necessary adjustments to their working routine.

However, working from home is not a complete solution as remote working may make it harder for employers to spot other issues surrounding the menopause. This is particularly important during the current pandemic, where many menopausal employees have no option but to work from home, often in isolation from colleagues and friends. 

So, it is more important than ever that employees have a point of contact at their workplace to discuss what their employer could do to make them more comfortable. This could include taking a more flexible approach to working hours and being aware of other demands on an employee’s time, such as added childcare responsibilities through local school closures.  

Employee wellbeing is therefore key, and not just for those going through the menopause.

Alex Christen is an employment lawyer at Capital Law