Menopause – 4 top tips for employers
28 October 2019
At the moment, women over 50 make up approximately 12% of the workforce in the UK. However, by 2022, that figure is expected to increase to 16%. Given that statistically most women over 50 either have experienced or will experience menopausal symptoms that affect their work, and 1/3 of those women’s symptoms will be severe, the menopause is an issue that all employers need to have on their radar.
Unfortunately, at the moment there is still a stigma attached to talking about menopausal symptoms. It is not just a physical issue, as it can affect women’s emotional and mental health as well. Common symptoms such as insomnia, difficulty concentrating, night sweats and forgetfulness can lead to poor performance, indecision and decreased confidence, so good management and a supportive and understanding culture is really important.
It also matters from a legal point of view. In an Employment Tribunal case in 2012 (Merchant v BT plc) an employee successfully claimed sex discrimination when her employer failed to deal with her menopause symptoms in the same way it would have dealt with other medical conditions. Our previous article about that case can be found here.
And it’s not just about sex discrimination. Depending on the symptoms, an employee going through the menopause may potentially also meet the definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010, plus they might be able to link any less favourable treatment to their age, and claim discrimination on that basis too.
So what should an employer do?
- Take medical advice
If there are concerns that an employee’s health may be affecting their work, then it is always a good idea to get a medical opinion. The employee’s consent will need to be sought, and advice is usually taken from the employee’s GP/specialist or an independent Occupational Health doctor. It will be important to ask the right questions of the doctor to ensure the information they provide is as useful as possible.
- Consider flexible working
All employees are entitled to make flexible working requests once they reach 26 weeks’ service. If a member of your staff makes a request in order to manage her menopausal symptoms, whether temporarily or permanently, then it should be taken seriously (plus, it may amount to a ‘reasonable adjustment’ if the employee meets the definition of disability).
- Think about the working environment
It is possible that changes to the working environment may be needed. For example, providing a fan (or giving them the option of sitting near a window) may help if an employee is experiencing hot flushes.
And last but definitely not least – encourage your employees to come and talk to you about how they are feeling, and talk to them about what support they feel they need. Ensure that they know that issues will be dealt with sensitively and confidentially. The stigma around the menopause means there is a danger that people will keep issues ‘bottled up’, which can lead to much bigger problems for everyone further down the line.
Also, it’s not just about speaking to employees – it’s also important that managers across your organisation generally are aware of how menopausal symptoms may affect women in the workplace, so talk to them too. However, it’s important that this is handled sensitively and doesn’t lead to stereotyping.
ACAS has produced some useful guidance on the menopause, which can be found here.
If you are dealing with an employee issue relating to the menopause, then we can help. Please call us on 01243 836840 for a no obligation chat, or email us at [email protected].