Women suffering from symptoms of menopause who work in the NHS will be able to work from home under new guidance.
HR experts have hailed the move as a “very important step,” and one that could have an “exponential” impact if replicated among other workforces.
It is the first instance of the NHS implementing such guidance around menopause in the workplace, and calls have already been made for other employers to follow suit to help menopausal women “thrive” at work.
Speaking to the Telegraph, Amanda Pritchard, the chief executive of NHS England said: “Menopause is not a health condition, it’s a stage of life, and I want all women facing this transition in the NHS to have access to the right support to stay in and thrive at work,” she told The Telegraph.
Pritchard continued: “Women approaching or going through menopause should not have to put up with feeling uncomfortable at work, or feel any shame in talking about a transition which is simply a part of life.
“Simple steps like flexible working patterns, fans to help make temperatures more comfortable, cooler uniforms, and staff training can make a big difference and I want to see this happening right across the board.”
The new plans will mean women suffering from symptoms could be given lighter duties and have access to “flexible working patterns”.
NHS guidance asks employers to implement “any reasonable adjustments to their working pattern”. This could include flexible breaks, remote working or shorter hours.
Should other businesses follow the NHS’ path?
HR and employment law experts have hailed the move as a positive step towards more awareness about the impact that menopause symptoms can have on employees – though they have also admitted that changes to employment law must be made.
Rachael Lloyd, Senior Associate at UK law firm Michelmores, said: “The NHS has issued its first ever national guidance on menopause which is a hugely positive and welcome announcement.
“We have seen a rise in the number of employment tribunals citing menopause in recent years, making the implementation of a menopause policy or code of conduct a real necessity.
“The NHS has set a bold example which will hopefully encourage others to follow, yet the likelihood is that, without a government mandate that employers provide reasonable adjustments for employees going through menopause, more widespread adoption could be slow. For that, the ball is now firmly in the government’s court. Although, with potential plans afoot to overhaul employment law as we know it, we will have to wait and see whether menopause protection features in those plans.”
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Martin Williams, Head of Employment and Partner at Mayo Wynne Baxter, said: “If this new NHS England guidance does prove to be transferable to other workplaces, the impact could be exponential.
“While voluntary schemes are most welcome, regulatory change needs to happen to put all women on an equal footing. Unfortunately we are still a long way off.
“The imperative for regulatory change will grow as the subject of menstruation and menopause becomes less taboo, which requires an attitudinal shift in society.
“This move by NHS England is a very important step.”
The law and menopause
Although menopause is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, Acas states that if an employee is put at a disadvantage and treated less favourably because of their menopause symptoms, this could be discrimination
According to Alex Christen, an Employment Lawyer at Capital Law, advises that claims which could arise include indirect sex and disability discrimination; sex, disability and age-related harassment; victimisation; failure to make reasonable adjustments; and unfair dismissal.”
He explained: “Failing to fulfil these duties may bring legal consequences. If a woman experiencing the menopause is treated detrimentally because of menopausal symptoms and these are not taken into account within policies or practices, it could potentially give rise to claims.”
How HR can support affected employees
HR Grapevine has previously reported on several firms that have rolled out new policies around menopause.
For example, in April 2022, more than 600 UK-based companies, including the likes of BBC, Tesco, Royal Mail, Asos, TSB, KPMG and the John Lewis Partnership, signed a pledge to make workplaces more supportive for staff going through menopause.
Additionally, sustainable brand Modibodi previously announced a new policy that offers staff paid leave for menstruation, menopause and miscarriage.
Elsewhere, the multinational company Diageo announced its first ever global Menopause Guidelines under the banner of ‘Thriving Through Menopause’.
Previous research shared by the CIPD also highlighted the impact that the menopause can have on employees. The data found that 59% of working women between the ages of 45 and 55-years-old who are experiencing menopause symptoms said it has a negative impact on them at work.
The research also highlighted the need for additional support in the workplace, as 48% of respondents stated that they feel supported by their colleagues, while just 32% said they felt supported by their managers.
Debra Clark, head of specialist consulting at Towergate Health & Protection, is calling for menopause education in the workplace to be for everyone, not just people going through menopause. She said: “There is a great deal of misunderstanding surrounding the symptoms and impact of menopause.
“Everyone will be impacted by the menopause at some point in their working lives, either going through it, or knowing someone going through it. So it’s vital that education and awareness isn’t only directed at people going through menopause, it must also be inclusive of all genders and all ages. Increased understanding is the first step in creating a culture that’s supportive.
“Employers are in a unique position to be able to offer information and support on menopause and its impact. The positive effects of greater education will help the individuals involved, their families, colleagues, as well as the business itself.
“Workplace support won’t be as effective if it isn’t offered widely enough.”
Education is arguably even more important for employees that work overseas, where different cultures also need to be taken into account.