The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health is urging employers to take greater measures to include and to support employees experiencing symptoms of the menopause, most notably by ensuring that managers have the necessary associated skills towards it.
Encountering any health condition in the workplace can be daunting for employers, managers, and employees experiencing those conditions. However, it doesn’t need to be that way.
As awareness around the menopause has grown, particularly in recent years, the debate has developed around whether it is a gender issue, a disability matter, or involves an element of both. There has also been discussion around whether discrimination laws should be amended to give the menopause special protection.
The outcome of this debate is something of an unknown at present. However, there are still steps that employers can be taking to ensure inclusion and support for employees who are experiencing the effects of the menopause at work.
1. Introduce a Written Policy
Either solely or together with any trade unions that you may recognise, it is important to have the menopause policy included in your staff handbook providing information on the menopause and what your business will do to assist employees experiencing symptoms associated with it.
Crucially, the menopause is a very personal condition: one employee may experience entirely different symptoms to another, and each employee will manage it in their own way, so your policy must not be over-prescriptive but, at the same time, it should be detailed enough so that all employees know where they stand.
As mentioned, there will not be a one-size-fits-all approach to how the specific individual symptoms of menopause can be addressed and accommodated in the workplace.
Therefore, training is essential, both for male and female managers, to ensure that they are aware of menopause and its potential impact and apply a consistent approach towards it that reflects the position taken by the business.
3. A safe environment to discuss it in
The right balance needs to be struck between not being too invasive towards an employee who might be experiencing symptoms of menopause and giving an employee the freedom and the opportunity to discuss their symptoms if they feel comfortable doing so.
This can only be led from the top of an organisation, instilling the correct level of openness without making things uncomfortable.
For example, you might already provide training on equality and diversity, covering the nine protected characteristics provided for in discrimination law. You might separately decide to provide training on menopause to all employees to ensure that they are familiar with what it is and encourage employees to discuss it openly (if they wish to) and in an appropriate way.
4. Health and safety risk assessments
As an employer, you are already obliged to perform risk assessments to ensure the health and safety of your employees broadly and also in the event of specific scenarios arising (such as pregnancy and disability), so it would be wise to do this in the case of the menopause as well.
Workplace factors such as air conditioning, heating, noise and posture (to name a few) can play a part in the individual and collective symptoms of menopause, so it is sensible to address the health and safety implications of this – both long and short-term – on a regular basis, bearing in mind that it is likely to be an evolving condition for the person experiencing it.
5. Reasonable adjustments
This element, in particular, may be the one that causes the most confusion over whether this is a disability discrimination issue or a sex discrimination one.
In the first instance, the key is to work closely with your health and safety adviser to identify the potential risks. Whilst the daily communication and management surrounding the employee’s experience of their symptoms is best handled in collaboration with your HR provider.
The main thing to appreciate is that, whilst there might be some overlap between how one employee’s experience is handled, there isn’t likely to be a uniform approach to all employees experiencing symptoms as those symptoms are likely to be quite unique from one person to another.
Ensuring that your business has a compliant menopause policy is just one reason for reviewing the effectiveness of your staff handbook.
This note is not intended to substitute legal advice from your instructed lawyer. You should always consult with your lawyer directly regarding any specific queries you may have.