The menopause is not the “taboo” subject that it used to be but there is a strong argument to say that employers must do more in the workplace and acknowledge the way in which its symptoms impact women at work.
Many large corporate businesses have embraced this subject and put policies and processes in place including risk assessments and potential changes to working arrangements for women going through the menopause.
Also, we now have more women than ever in the workplace and probably working longer. It is generally acknowledged that women are reluctant to speak to employers about the menopause because they are concerned that it will adversely affect their job or career.
Women are going through the menopause and keeping quiet about it for fear of reducing career development prospects. Can you imagine a woman in her early 50s walking into a meeting and apologising for being late saying that she had a bad night with a series of hot flushes? It wouldn’t happen because research shows that women are not keen to draw attention to the issues caused by the menopause.
What is the legal position?
The menopause is effectively covered by various strands of legislation…..
Under the Equality Act, 2010 – the menopause is potentially covered under 3 protected characteristics – age, sex and disability.
The Health and Safety at Work Act provides for safe working which extends to the working conditions when experiencing menopausal symptoms.
There are also statutory rights to request flexible working and we have seen a significant increase amongst women in the drive to work either flexibly or from home.
Finally, there is an implied “duty of care” that the employer owes their employee.
What reasonable adjustments can an employer make?
Many employers are not aware of the need to make reasonable adjustments when dealing with the menopause and it is possible that this is because women don’t want to “make a fuss” and often go to great lengths to hide their symptoms.
The symptoms most likely to be experienced are hot flushes, headaches, tiredness, lack of energy, sweating, anxiety/panic attacks, mood swings, lack of concentration and memory loss. These symptoms can last anything from a few months to several years.
Employers can show greater flexibility by providing for opportunities to work from home or varying working hours.
Better ventilation, access to fans, air conditioning and better air quality etc are all adjustments that can be made to manage the issue of temperature fluctuations.
Also, there are many examples of women doing physical jobs during the menopause where the employer has provided overalls made of a different material to reduce sweating and temperature fluctuations. There is also evidence of women doing either driving or multi-drop delivery roles where they need to go to the loo more frequently.
The menopause and mental health
Evidence also suggests that women going through the menopause suffer from a sense of reduced self-esteem and self-confidence with women in their early 50s thinking that their career is stagnating and development prospects reducing.
Not surprisingly, this can lead to mental health issues which provides further evidence that employers must take this matter seriously.
If there are concerns regarding a woman’s performance or capability leading to dismissal and the employer fails to consider or explore the effect of the menopause in relation to performance and capability issues, there is a risk of an action of sex discrimination.
The menopause in the workplace is becoming much more significant and there have been many situations where women have invoked the grievance procedure because they have been hurt or offended by insensitive comments regarding their menopausal symptoms. Some may say that this is just “office banter” and no-one wanted to cause any offence but this is a very delicate issue and employers must take a zero-tolerance approach to insensitive comments even if they were just meant as a joke.
In many large organisations, awareness of the issue is being increased through seminars, training, workshops, better resources and guidelines and the provision of Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs). Some organisations provide funding for specific coaching to help women through the menopause – it has become a specialist area of life coaching.
With greater awareness, this will become less of a “taboo” subject and employers will recognise that the issue cannot be swept under the carpet or ignored – and it can’t be the butt of office jokes.
Issues associated with the menopause fall under sex, mental health and disability discrimination and if these issues reach an Employment Tribunal, damages are unlimited and the media like the idea of some sensational headlines…..not good publicity.
AB HR Solutions offers HR support to business and can work with employers to manage issues associated with the menopause.