New guidance for employers on menopause in the workplace

22nd February 2024

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has issued new guidance for employers on their legal obligations towards workers who are going through the menopause.

This guidance comes at a critical time. We are seeing more and more women talk openly about the symptoms that they experience with the menopause and the direct impact that this has on their work life.

The impact of menopause on women at work

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that two thirds of working women between the ages of 40 to 60 with experience of menopausal symptoms admitted that it had a negative impact on them at work. Over half of these women said they were less able to concentrate and that they also experienced more stress whilst at work. It’s therefore unsurprising that recent surveys have found that some women feel compelled to end their employment altogether.

The EHRC is taking prompt action to address these findings. Employers are being reminded of their legal obligations towards workers with menopausal symptoms and the different ways they can support them.

What are the legal obligations on employers?

  1. Reasonable workplace adjustments

Workers have the right to be protected from discrimination, harassment and victimisation on the grounds of ‘protected characteristics’ that are defined in law. Examples include disability, age and sex.

Employers should be aware that menopausal symptoms could amount to a disability. Disability is defined in the Equality Act 2010 as “a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long term adverse effect on an individual’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.”

If a worker’s symptoms fall within the scope of the definition above, employers will have a legal duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments.’ In such circumstances, where possible, employers ought to adopt a flexible approach to try and reduce the disadvantages that the disability has on the worker. Ultimately, this will differ on a case-by-case basis. A failure to make reasonable adjustments would put the employer at risk of being sued for disability discrimination. It also runs the risk of staff leaving the workplace prematurely and can lead to reputational damage.

  1. Risk assessments

Employers also have a legal obligation under health and safety legislation to carry out a risk assessment of the workplace. It is important that these assessments are kept under review and updated regularly. For example, this may cover the temperature and ventilation of the workplace. More guidance on risk assessments can be found here.

Guidance for employers:

There are many different ways that employers can support workers with menopausal symptoms. These include:

  • Menopause-related absences should be recorded separately to other absences. Avoid taking disciplinary action on menopause-related absences until you have sought legal advice
  • Provide training to all workers on the effects of menopause
  • Provide separate and regular training for those in a supervisory or HR role. They should understand the law relating to menopause and the support that may be available
  • Publish a menopause policy in the staff handbook with a summary of how you intend to support staff with menopausal symptoms
  • Encourage open 1-2-1 conversations and make staff aware of the options available to them
  • Ensure adequate ventilation and provide access to cooling systems such as a desk fan
  • Update the uniform policy so that cooler clothing can be worn
  • Promote flexibility. This may include flexible working or homeworking depending on the requirements of the role. Another option is to allow for shift patterns to be changed on short notice if needed.

The guidance from the EHRC is a much welcomed and helpful reminder to employers of their legal obligations towards menopausal women in the workplace. Employers ought to familiarise themselves with the guidance to avoid any potential acts of discrimination. The recommendations by the EHRC is a good starting point for employers to consider, particularly in respect of training staff and promoting flexibility. To ensure that those affected are treated fairly and consistently, HR professionals need immediately to implement a menopause specific policy for inclusion in their staff handbook.

If you are seeking advice or support on any of the above, please contact me on my details below.

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