More and more employers are taking action to support staff going through menopause.
This is partly due to high-profile campaigns from trade unions and celebrities; it’s also because menopause affects such a significant section of the workforce that it’s become impossible to ignore.
In fact, around 13 million people are currently peri or menopausal in the UK, equivalent to a third of the entire UK female population. But it is important not to fall into the trap of thinking that menopause only affects older female staff.
This issue affects a wide range of the workforce in terms of age because someone may experience premature menopause, medically induced (temporary) menopause or surgical menopause. In addition, the issue also affects transgender, non-binary and inter-sex staff.
Many employees sadly maintain silence around their experiences of menopause. This is partly due to a fear of ageism and losing their jobs or status if they admit to some common consequences of menopause, including brain fog and hot flushes.
Cost of Menopause to business and the economy
Women over 50 are the fastest-growing group in the workforce, and many are highly skilled and at the peak of their careers.
Research by the CIPD in 2021 found that six in ten working women experiencing menopause said it negatively impacted them at work. In addition, one in ten women leaves their job because of menopausal symptoms, while one in five women do not seek the promotion they deserve because of a loss of confidence linked to their menopause transition. Consequently, there are potential knock-on effects on the gender pay gap, the pension gap and the number of women in senior leadership positions.
The legal position
Menopause is not a “protected characteristic” in the Equality Act 2010. Earlier this year, the Government confirmed it would not be making any changes to the Act, and menopause would not become a new “protected characteristic”, which was disappointing for those who had campaigned for that change. The Government believes that the existing protected characteristics of sex, age and disability already protect against discrimination and harassment due to menopause.
What are my legal duties as an employer?
Employers have a legal duty to prevent workplace discrimination and harassment. Employers also have a duty to protect their employees’ health, safety and welfare and assess workplace risks. If the individual has a disability, the obligation to make reasonable adjustments may arise.
How can I best support staff going through menopause?
Many responsible employers are already taking steps to break the taboo and support staff going through menopause by encouraging open conversations, covering menopause during the induction processes and appointing workplace menopause champions. Others have implemented a menopause policy and held regular training sessions to educate staff. Employers can also look at adjusting sickness policies to address menopause-related absences.
For example, policies with “trigger points” (when several short-term absences trigger a performance review or disciplinary action) have a particular impact on menopausal employees.
Other proactive approaches can include setting up informal support networks such as menopause cafes and signposting to further support for those experiencing debilitating symptoms.
Some employers already provide access to menopause clinics and app-based services. Other measures may include more flexible working, such as changing shift patterns and altering start times.
Employers can also improve the working environment for people experiencing menopause. Such measures can include providing access to fans and good ventilation to help combat hot flushes, the ability to control workplace temperature and making adjustments to staff uniforms which may cause discomfort.
Extensive guidance is available for employers from organisations including ACAS, CIPD, Over the Bloody Moon, Menopause Support and Menopause Matters UK.
There are many benefits for employers in taking a more proactive approach towards menopause. By fostering safer and fairer workplaces for people working through menopause, employers are more likely to retain the talents of experienced and skilled workers while boosting morale and well-being in their team.