The government’s July 2022 response to the independent report it commissioned on ‘menopause and employment’ has been seen by many as a missed opportunity to enhance the legal protections afforded to those experiencing menopausal symptoms at work.
Notwithstanding the government’s indication that it has no intention of changing the current law in this area, the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) issued a report shortly afterwards calling for change. In particular, the WEC wants to introduce menopause as a new ‘protected characteristic’ in its own right under the Equality Act 2010, and also to implement the section of that Act that would allow dual discrimination claims (a claim alleging combined discrimination because of age and sex, for example).
There is undoubtedly an increasing awareness within society of menopause (a “normal, natural and inevitable part of ageing”, as stated in the WEC report) and the impact this can have on people at work. This awareness is likely to continue to grow, as is the pressure on employers to support and retain affected staff, not least because of the rise in the number of claims relating to menopause coming before the employment tribunals.
With October being Menopause Awareness Month, it is an apt time for businesses to consider what they can do to support those experiencing menopausal symptoms in the workplace. Here are our top five tips for best practice:
Consider introducing a menopause policy, setting out the support available to staff experiencing menopausal symptoms and the process that will be followed. Ideally, the views of employees should be sought in formulating this (further guidance may also be found on the Acas and CIPD websites).
Having a specific policy is an indication that an organisation appreciates the impact menopause can have, values staff members experiencing it and demonstrates a willingness to offer support. In addition, employers could appoint a senior member of staff to be a ‘menopause champion’ (and provide them with the necessary training to undertake this role), providing employees with a clear point of contact for information and support.
Raise awareness of menopause and signpost support. This can be done in a number of ways and need not be expensive. It can be as simple as having a dedicated page on the employer’s intranet signposting external resources and sources of information. Another idea is to buy a small number of books/electronic resources about menopause and implement a system whereby they can be borrowed/accessed by staff.
Provide training to employees – not only to managers in how to be supportive to and deal with team members experiencing menopause, but also to the workforce generally. Groups often overlooked in this conversation are men or younger colleagues. They too should be provided with training and information since they may also be impacted by virtue of living or working with people experiencing menopausal symptoms. An awareness of the symptoms and issues faced by people experiencing menopause can foster a more supportive and sympathetic work environment.
Encourage open dialogue within the workplace. This can also be done in several ways, including ‘lunch and learn’ sessions (for example, on how to deal with certain symptoms such as brain fog or hot flushes) and/or forming and encouraging discussion groups/networks among staff in which people can share their experiences (including senior role models) and offer each other support and ideas. This can go a long way towards normalising menopause.
Be flexible. Even if a specific policy is not introduced, support for those experiencing menopause can be incorporated into existing workplace policies, such as sickness absence, health and safety, capability and flexible working policies. For example, highlighting how absence related to menopause will be treated, or how flexible working requests will be considered can be helpful. Small practical changes and reasonable adjustments to work stations when requested (such as the provision of desk fans, allowing more regular breaks or easy access to water or toilets) can make a big difference.
Whether there is eventually reform in the law or not, menopause is set to remain a significant workplace issue for years to come. Businesses should put support mechanisms in place sooner rather than later, not only to reduce the risk of claims but also to retain and safeguard the wellbeing of some of their key members of staff, typically at the peak of their career.
Moira Campbell is a senior associate and Özlem Mehmet a professional support lawyer in the employment team at Kingsley Napley