According to Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace, women over the age of 50 are the fastest growing demographic in the workforce. The average age for a woman in the UK where menopause starts to affect them is, 51. However, it can be much earlier than this, naturally or due to surgery, or illness and symptoms can start many years before menopause, this is called the perimenopause phase.
As more employees go through the menopause during their working lives, employers and line managers need to be aware of the impact this can have on an individual at their workplace.
Some common symptoms of menopause and perimenopause include:
- Sleep disturbances, which may be a result of night sweats and make you feel tired and irritable
- Hot flushes (sudden surges of heat usually felt in the face, neck and chest which can make you dizzy)
- Changes to your mood, anxiety and/or depression, memory loss, mood swings, low self-esteem and reduced concentration
- Irregular periods
- Muscle aches and joint pains
- Weight gain
- Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs) including cystitis
- Skin changes including dry and itchy skin.
Understandably, any of these common symptoms would impact your day-to-day life, including at your place of work. Therefore, it is important for line managers and employers to be aware of these symptoms and how the effects of menopausal symptoms could affect an employee’s work.
According to research from the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, three out of five (59%) working women between the ages of 45 and 55 who are experiencing menopause or perimenopause symptoms say it has a strong impact on their lives and has a negative impact on them at work. Of those who were affected negatively at work, also reported the following issues:
- 65% said they found it more difficult to concentrate
- 58% said they experienced more stress
- 52% said they felt less tolerant with clients and colleagues
- 30% said they had taken sick leave days due to their symptoms, but only 25% of them felt able to tell their manager the real reason for their absence
Supporting employees through menopause – what should line managers and employers be doing?
The role of line managers in supporting people experiencing the menopause transition is critical. They are normally the first point of contact if someone needs to discuss a possible health concern, or needs an adjustment to their work or work schedule to enable them to perform to their fullest potential.
The degree of trust you build with employees determines how willing employees suffering from menopausal symptoms are able to discuss any support or adjustments they need at work. Simple management techniques you can adopt that can make a big difference include:
- Build relationships based on trust, empathy and respect.
This will make it much easier for an employee to feel comfortable about raising a potential health issue, like menopause.
- Consistent and informal one-to-ones with employees can provide the setting for a conversation about any changes to someone’s health concerns, including menopause.
This will help to create an open and inclusive culture and environment that encourages people to raise any concerns
- Don’t make any assumptions – everyone has different experiences, so take your lead from the individual
Some actions employers can take to ensure that they are supporting employees affected by the symptoms of menopause:
- Positive messaging – employers should make sure menopause is treated as a medical issue and highlighted as such. Guidance for both employees and line managers on dealing with the menopause and symptoms should be openly available within the workplace.
- Various channels for support – Some people may feel uncomfortable going to their line manager (particularly if they are of the opposite gender), and the topic of menopause may be more difficult to raise for employees who are transgender, non-binary or intersex. Therefore, various channels of support should be available.
For example, a designated menopause point-of-contact within the business or HR department for employees and their line managers.
- Flexibility – Working arrangements should be in place to ensure they meet the needs of menopausal employees. Some may need to leave the workplace suddenly if they feel unwell, and/or may need a desk fan to help with hot flushes. They may also require more breaks throughout the day.
For example, employers should avoid penalising employees who need to take more frequent bathroom breaks.
- Menopause policy – Some businesses (who don’t already) may want to consider putting in place a standalone policy covering menopause. This should contain information such as directing employees to relevant support channels or to HR where they believe reasonable adjustments to their workplace or working hours could be helpful.
Employment law and menopause
Menopause at the workplace is covered by certain pieces of legislations to protect employees:
- The Equality Act 2010, which protects people from discrimination in the workplace, the menopause is mainly covered under three protected characteristics:
- Age discrimination
Employees are protected from being treated less favourably because of their age. Given that menopause is typically age-related, if someone is being treated less favourably because they’re going through menopause, this in turn can be related to the age of a person.
It is also important for employers to note that age discrimination can affect young people who go through early or medically induced menopause.
- Sex discrimination
Women who are treated less favourably than men can bring forward a claim for sex discrimination. Employment tribunals may find a case of direct discrimination if menopause symptoms are treated differently than any other medical conditions.
Employers should remember workplace jokes regarding menopause should be treated just as seriously as if it were about any other protected characteristic, as these jokes target women and so can lead to possible claims for harassment related to sex.
- Disability discrimination
In some cases, menopause could be considered a disability.
The legal definition of “disability” requires a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term (at least 12 months) negative effect on your ability to do normal day to day activities.
Since some individuals may only experience minor symptoms, whereas others may experience more severe symptoms. Menopause symptoms have to be judged on a case-by-case basis, where serious menopause symptoms can constitute a disability.
- The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 places a duty on employers to ensure, where reasonably practical, everyone’s health, safety and welfare at the workplace. This extends to the working conditions when experiencing menopausal symptoms.
There is plenty that employers can and ought to be doing to ensure that employees going through menopause are being fully supported, as the mismanagement of employees being affected by the symptoms of menopause can result in very costly disputes.
Here are the top three tribunal cases on menopause, according the Kuits solicitors.
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