Menopause Awareness Day: Why the menopause is a workplace matter
The menopause is a topic that has historically been considered taboo, but in recent times there has been a vast increase in the recognition of the challenges that those going through the menopause can face. We've also seen an increasing number of employment tribunal cases which reference the menopause and the flurry of press attention that such cases receive. With World Menopause Day falling on 18 October 2023, employers should be reminded of why menopause is a workplace matter, the practical steps they can take to support staff and the possible legal risks stemming from this topic.
Potential risks facing employers:
- Discrimination: Whilst the menopause is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 those who suffer from any sort of discrimination as a result of experiencing the menopause may find they are protected under other characteristics such as age, sex, disability or gender reassignment. For example, recent Employment Tribunal cases have found that where the symptoms of the menopause cause severe suffering, such symptoms can amount to a disability. Accordingly, employers must not discriminate against their employees on these grounds and should also be alert to their obligations to provide reasonable adjustments.
- Harassment: Staff may be subject to unwanted comments or remarks about their symptoms from other colleagues which can lead to harassment claims, for example on the grounds of age, sex, disability or gender reassignment, for which employers can be liable.
- Health and safety issues: Employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety of all of their employees. The menopause can carry with it severe symptoms (such as joint aches or migraines) which can amount to a health and safety risk of which employers should be aware. Mental health support becomes just as important as physical support during this time as anxiety and depression are recorded as one of the most prolific symptoms of the menopause.
- Constructive dismissal claims: If an employer responds inappropriately to an employee's situation regarding the menopause, this can lead to a break down in the trust and confidence of the employment relationship which can give rise to constructive dismissal claims.
What practical steps can employers take to support their staff?
Introducing a menopause policy can be a highly effective way of ensuring that there are designated procedures to follow when supporting an individual through the menopause. It can also be helpful in creating an open culture within the workplace in which issues surrounding the menopause are discussed freely and support is widely offered.
Provide practical training. Training is a crucial method of removing the taboo that often surrounds the menopause. Training sessions encourage conversations and questions about how employees can support their colleagues and teach employees how to recognise when another may need additional support. It is vital that employers introduce this for managers and senior employees as the tone and support is often set from the top.
Employers should consider appointing menopause champions who can promote the needs of those going through the menopause and also ensure that support frameworks are put in place. Menopause champions can offer an ear of support and feedback to central management/HR about changes that need to be made or mechanisms that need to be put in place, such as employee assistance programmes or medical health insurance that may benefit employees who are going through the menopause.
Employers should keep in mind that employees may need adjustments to help them through their menopause journey. Example of adjustments may include:
- Flexible working arrangements which may assist those suffering from menopausal symptoms e.g. increased home-working or avoiding commuting in rush hour.
- Harnessing a comfortable working environment through adjustments such as temperature-controlled areas, toilet access on all floors, access to hot and cold water on each floor.
- Conducting risk assessments, in line with an employer’s health and safety obligations, to consider the needs of menopausal staff and introducing appropriate adjustments e.g. providing desk fans, good ventilation, natural light and access to quiet spaces.
For information on the Government's response to the Women and Equalities Committee's report on the menopause, published earlier this year, please see our previous alert on this topic.
If you have any questions on this topic, please contact Paul Reeves, Leanne Raven and Abigail Edwards or your usual Stephenson Harwood contact.