Menopause in the workplace - why is this topic so important? Well, put quite simply, we have an ageing workforce and women are representing a greater demographic of positions. This means that, technically, half of your workforce can be leading up to, or experiencing perimenopause or menopause related symptoms.
Whilst menopause is not specifically protected in law, some symptoms can be very serious and last a very long time, meaning that menopause can (and has been in previous case law) considered a disability. This would therefore open up your company to claims of disability discrimination, along with other protected characteristics such as age and sex.
For an employee to be considered disabled under the Equality Act 2010, the employee must have a mental or physical impairment which substantially and adversely impacts their normal day-to-day activities and has done for 12 months or more. If your employee satisfies this test, then you will have a duty to make reasonable adjustments.
Regardless of whether your employee meets the disability threshold arising from their perimenopausal or menopausal symptoms, you should not be put off from taking steps to make adjustments. Take each employee on a case-by-case basis and be prepared to make adjustments to adjustments!
If we approach this topic correctly, it will result in a happy workforce, increased productivity, decreased absences and it will reflect that the company cares and considers these issues pro-actively. It will harvest a positive culture, and this will be appealing to both your existing workforce but also to potential recruits. Not only that, but it will minimise losing skilled and experience staff. You will no doubt want to retain skill, have greater diversity in the boardroom and form part of the bigger picture in taking a step towards closing that gender pay gap. The most obvious risk of not getting this right is costs. It will be very expensive and time consuming to defend litigation against claims of discrimination and or unfair dismissal. But cost should not be your main motivation.
You should not apply blanket reasonable adjustments to all women, and trans men, over the age of 45 years as one size will not fit all in these circumstances. There is such a wide variance of symptoms and severity that a blanket policy will not work. What is right for one woman may not be for another. You need to adopt a case-by-case approach and implement consistent flexibility throughout. It may, or may not, come as a surprise that there are minimal costs associated with being proactive and taking positive action surrounding this topic.
Some adjustments can be fairly simple and would include:
1. Policies – make sure you have a menopause policy in place, which is published, used and followed. Consider updating/amending your other policies such as sickness and disciplinary in order to accommodate individuals impacted by their symptoms.
2. Consider providing desk fans and temperature controls. Consider situating your employee’s desk by a window which opens or seated near the toilet facilities. Where possible, consider being flexible with their working hours and accommodating additional rest breaks.
3. Share information, knowledge and experiences. There are lots of resources and literature available online.
4. Offer all reasonable support, try to move the conversation forward just how we have done with mental health.
5. Implement something similar to a mental health first aider – someone with experience and publicise them as a safe and informed person to approach as a first point of call.
6. Arrange for a specialist trainer to deliver training to your workforce.
7. Staff surveys – harvest the thoughts of your workforce regarding this subject to ascertain areas of discomfort, gaps in knowledge and to see what they want to achieve.
8. Private medical cover – think carefully around such coverage and it would be sensible to consider this on a case-by-case basis if appropriate.
If you have any questions surrounding this evolving area of law please do get in contact with Kate Johnson on 01827 317 063.