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Changing Attitudes to Menopause

On 22 February 2024, the EHRC released some new guidance and resources for employers on how to support menopausal employees. This guidance comes at a time when attitudes and approaches to menopause is shifting. Where discussing the menopause once seemed taboo, there are now moves to open up the conversation and ensure that those experiencing symptoms are properly supported and protected. In light of these changing attitudes, we have set out some answers to the frequently asked questions that employers ask when considering how to support a menopausal employee.

1. What is the menopause?

Menopause happens when lower oestrogen levels cause menstruation to stop, which usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55, but can happen earlier. Some people experience perimenopause, where they experience symptoms of menopause whilst still having periods.

Some employers may expect menopause to only affect women of a certain age, and whilst this is usual, it is possible for symptoms to begin earlier, either due to natural causes, or triggered for other medical causes.

2. What are symptoms of the menopause?

Menopause and perimenopause effects people differently, and employers should be alive to the fact that not all employees will experience the same symptoms. Common symptoms include: anxiety, mood swings, brain fog, hot flushes and irregular periods.

In recent research done by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) it was found that of those who found menopause negatively impacted them at work, the most common symptoms were:

  • Reduced concentration (79%)
  • Higher stress (68%)

The result is that many women between the age of 40 and 60 with menopausal symptoms find themselves in a position where they are unable to go into work because of their symptoms.

3. How should I talk to my employees about the menopause?

The most important thing is to have open and honest conversations with employees. Making a working environment where menopause is not a taboo subject, and is openly discussed will make employees feel supported and will enable employees to feel comfortable coming to their managers to discuss any difficulties they are having. The EHRC guidance includes a short video with tips for employers on navigating these conversations. It is recommended that employers include all employees in these conversations to help to make the topic more open and approachable and to ensure that those experiencing menopausal symptoms feel supported.

4. Is the menopause a disability?

A person may be disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if they have a long term condition that substantially impacts their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. The recent guidance from the ECHR has confirmed that menopausal symptoms may meet this definition, although employers should note that this would still be assessed on a case by case basis.

5. Do I have to make reasonable adjustments for employees with menopausal symptoms?

If a person is disabled, and employer has a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments for them. What is reasonable is determined on a case by case basis depending on the needs of the employee and of the business.

Whilst it is not a guarantee that menopause would be classed as a disability, this guidance does suggest the possibility, and most employers should therefore act as though it would be a disability and ensure they are making reasonable adjustments. This is sensible to ensure legal protection, but also for the wellbeing of the employee.

6. What reasonable adjustments should I be making?

Reasonable adjustments vary depending on the needs of the individual and the business. It is important to remember that not all women will experience menopausal symptoms in the same way, so what is right for one, may not be right for another.

In practice though, we recommend considering changes that can be made in the physical work place, such as desk fans or quiet rooms, as well as offering flexible working such as home working or flexible hours where appropriate.

It is also important to keep these adjustments under review. Like how not all employees will experience the same symptoms, symptoms can change over time, and what may be considered reasonable and appropriate at one point, may no longer apply. The obligation to make adjustments is ongoing, and cannot be fulfilled by a one time meeting and adjustment.

 

Lucy Densham Brown

Solicitor

View profile

+44 118 960 4655

It is recommended that employers include all employees in these conversations to help to make the topic more open and approachable and to ensure that those experiencing menopausal symptoms feel supported.

7. Why is it important to make adjustments?

We have covered that there is a legal obligation under the Equality Act to make these adjustments for disabled employees. Whilst it is not guaranteed that menopause will be considered a disability in every case, a prudent employer would act as though it may be.

Further though employers also have duties under health and safety regulations, and should ensure that risk assessments are carried out to identify any risks and find suitable adjustments. Employees should keep their employer updated of any changes to their health and wellbeing, so that they can accurately fulfil this duty.

Another key reason to make these adjustments is for skill retention and employee wellbeing. CIPD research shows that around one in six people (17%) have considered leaving work due to a lack of support in relation to their menopause symptoms. It is important for employers who wish to retain their staff, and ensure their wellbeing to consider adjustments that may be necessary to support them.

Employers should also remember that employees may also have protection from discrimination on grounds of gender or age in relation to menopause. Whilst this does not create an obligation to make reasonable adjustments, policies which are considered to be indirectly discriminatory towards employees of a certain age because of their incompatibility with menopausal symptoms for example, may result in discrimination claims.

8. Do I need a menopause policy?

A menopause policy is highly recommended as it provides clear guidance to managers dealing with employees experiencing the menopause on best practice. Often these conversations happen informally in one to ones, and it is always useful to have something clear to turn to for guidance.

It is also useful for employees, particularly those joining a business, to understand the support and protections offered by their employers.

9. How do I manage sickness absence because of the menopause?

This can be a tricky area, but the ECHR has made a specific point of recommending that employers ensure they are recording absences separately from other absences to avoid discrimination claims from something arising from a disability. However, we recognise that sometimes difficult conversations do need to be had regarding long term ill health and how an employer can support their employees. If you are in this situation, we recommend getting legal advice early to avoid issues down the line.

10. Do I need to train staff about menopause awareness?

It is always useful to ensure staff receive training on menopause awareness. As we have said before, there is a certain taboo around discussing menopause that is only now beginning to lift. These discussions are necessary to ensure that employees feel properly supported and protected, and training is a useful first step to opening this dialogue.

If you are interested in menopause training or a bespoke policy, or if you need specific guidance, please get in with our employment law solicitors who would be happy to help.

About this article

Disclaimer
This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

Lucy Densham Brown

Solicitor

View profile

+44 118 960 4655

About this article

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