'Time to take action' | Firms could be sued for lack of menopause support in the workplace, watchdog warns

Firms could be sued for lack of menopause support in the workplace, watchdog warns

Employers could be sued for disability discrimination if they fail to make reasonable adjustments for workers affected by menopause, the equality watchdog has warned.

New guidance on menopause in the workplace, setting out employer’s legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010, was issued by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) this week, amid reports from many women of the negative impacts of menopausal symptoms in the workplace, with some even feeling compelled to leave their jobs as a result.

If menopause symptoms have a long term and substantial impact on a woman’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, they may be considered a disability. Therefore, under the Equality Act 2010, an employer will be under a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments and to not discriminate against the worker.

Additionally, workers experiencing menopause symptoms may be protected from less favourable treatment related to their menopause symptoms on the grounds of age and sex.

The EHRC said that, as the number of women experiencing menopause while in employment increases, it was essential that employers know how to support workers experiencing menopause symptoms.

Read more from us

“Not only does this ensure they meet their legal responsibilities, but also that women in this group are able to continue to contribute to the workplace and benefit from work,” the watchdog stated.

The new guidance from the EHRC aims to clarify employers’ legal obligations and provide practical tips on making reasonable adjustments and fostering positive conversations about the menopause with their workers.

Research shows that one in ten women surveyed who have worked during the menopause have left their jobs due to symptoms, while two thirds of working women between the ages of 40 and 60 with experience of menopausal symptoms said they have had a mostly negative impact on them at work.

However, very few workers request workplace adjustments during this time, often citing concerns about potential reactions.

Read more from us

Baroness Kishwer Falkner, Chairwoman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:  “As Britain’s equality watchdog, we are concerned both by how many women report being forced out of a role due to their menopause-related symptoms and how many don’t feel safe enough to request the workplace adjustments.

“An employer understanding their legal duties is the foundation of equality in the workplace. But it is clear that many may not fully understand their responsibility to protect their staff going through the menopause. Our new guidance sets out these legal obligations for employers and provides advice on how they can best support their staff.

“We hope that this guidance helps ensure every woman going through the menopause is treated fairly and can work in a supportive and safe environment.”

‘It’s time for every single employer to take action’

Deborah Garlick, founder and CEO of Henpicked: Menopause In The Workplace, worked with the EHRC on the guidance.

“It was a pleasure to support the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) with this guidance, based on our eight years’ experience supporting thousands of employers to become menopause friendly,” she said.

“I welcome the continued awareness and action this news will bring: it’s time for every single employer to take action.

“Every organisation is different and what works for one employer may not work so well for another. It's important that employers look at their own workplace and their workforce and find out from colleagues what measures will help them.

“Employers can start by engaging in training and education and setting up safe spaces where people can talk openly about how they're feeling and what's getting in the way of them being their best.
“Implementing a strong menopause policy demonstrates to all employees that colleagues’ health is a priority. A menopause friendly employer is an inclusive employer and shows that people’s wellbeing needs can be met.”

Garlick went on: “It is quite right that people are protected under the Equality Act with menopause covered under age, gender and even disability. We are seeing employers losing tribunals citing menopause which is wholly avoidable with the right training, awareness and support in place.

“A few examples of things that most organisations can implement include: making the working environment more comfortable by being aware of temperature control, allowing people to sit near good ventilation and allowing quiet breakout areas where they can go when they need.

“Allowing flexible hours can help people manage fatigue or if they've had a sleepless night. Allowing people to work from home on those days when getting into the office feels much more difficult also helps. Simply by having those options in place from an understanding employer can relieve anxiety and worry for many people.”

HR ‘increasingly taking steps’ to create menopause-friendly workplaces

Charlotte Ashton, Associate Solicitor at esphr from WorkNest, welcomed the new guidance from the EHRC, stating it was “crucial that employers are aware of the legal risks to be aware of when managing menopausal employees.”

Ashton explained: “Symptoms vary between people but in cases where they are more serious, it could amount to a disability under the Equality Act. This means they’re not only protected under the Equality Act against discrimination but there is also a legal duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace.

“Before utilising performance management or absence management processes, employers should consider what, if any, reasonable adjustments can and should be made to minimise the effects of the symptoms on the person’s ability to perform their role and attend work more regularly.

“Even if symptoms are not so severe as to amount to a disability, failure to take them into account in absence management or performance management procedures could still amount to sex discrimination.”

Ashton added: “Fortunately, menopause in the workplace is becoming less of a taboo topic and employers and HR professionals are increasingly taking steps to make their workplaces more menopause friendly and understand their obligations. However, we know that employers can feel out their depth and struggle to know where to start. Menopause awareness training can be a hugely beneficial in this instance, especially for line managers supporting staff with symptoms.

“Our research has found that 66% of line managers aren’t confident in supporting menopause in the workplace, and only half of managers (52%) have received any training on how to support employees’ going through menopause.

“Supporting managers by providing menopause training can give them confidence in having conversations and educate them about the potential impact menopausal symptoms can have on an employee’s performance.”

WorkNest provided HR Grapevine with some top tips for how HR can support staff affected by menopause:

  1. Introduce a menopause policy. This will give women the tools to understand how to approach their managers, and help managers understand how to support employees who raise menopausal issues.

  2. Consider reasonable adjustments. Simple, low-cost support, like a desk fan, time off to visit their GP, or even just the opportunity to talk about it, can really help.

  3. Ensure health and safety risk assessments consider the specific needs of those experiencing the menopause and that the working environment will not make their symptoms worse.

  4. Openly discuss the menopause to help reduce stigma. Raise awareness, share evidence-based information and signpost people to resources. Organisations such as The Menopause Charity and Menopause and Me provide helpful guidance, podcasts, symptoms checklists and other educational materials, and employees may also benefit from attending ‘Menopause Cafés’ held across the country, where people meet to discuss menopause in an accessible, respectful and confidential space.

  5. Be aware that this is not just a gender or age issue. Colleagues can be indirectly affected by the menopause, if for example a spouse or significant other is going through it. Similarly, don’t forget to consider transgender and non-binary members of staff, who may also experience menopausal symptoms and require support.

  6. Finally, make it clear that line managers don’t need to be menopause experts. Managers are often uncomfortable talking about menopause because they don’t feel knowledgeable enough on the subject. Emphasise that their role is simply to support their team members and follow your organisation’s policies. If it helps managers to feel more confident about having these conversations, menopause awareness training may be beneficial.

You are currently previewing this article.

This is the last preview available to you for the next 30 days.

To access more news, features, columns and opinions every day, create a free myGrapevine account.