Although the menopause affects more than half the population, and most people are aware of the more well publicised symptoms – such as hot flushes – it is not discussed as openly as it perhaps should be. More can be done to educate employers about the symptoms and effects that some individuals may suffer with, as our senior solicitor, Charlotte Morris explains.
We must remember that the menopause not only affects women but also trans men or potentially those who identify as non-binary or gender neutral. For these individuals, the effects of menopause can be particularly distressing and can act as an unwelcome reminder of the gender they were assigned at birth.
Symptoms vary between people. Some may only have one or two, others may have multiple symptoms and the effects can be mild or severe. In cases where they are more serious, it could amount to a disability under the Equality Act. This means they’re not only protected under the Equality Act against discrimination but there is also a legal duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace.
Some menopause symptoms may affect a person’s performance, or attendance at work, such as:
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Difficulty sleeping
- Problems with memory and concentration
- Mood changes such as low mood or anxiety
- Joint stiffness, aches and pains
Before utilising performance management or absence management processes, employers who are aware, or should be, that an employee is suffering with the menopause symptoms, should consider what, if any, reasonable adjustments can and should be made to minimise the effects of the symptoms on the person’s ability to perform their role and attend work more regularly. Even if symptoms are not so severe as to amount to a disability, failure to take them into account in absence management or performance management procedures could still amount to sex discrimination.
The adjustments to be made will depend upon the symptoms experienced, the nature of the work undertaken, size of employer etc. However, some practical examples could include:
- Offering to move a person’s workstation to position them closer to windows or away from radiators
- Providing a desk fan
- Adjustments to uniforms/dress codes
- Allowing regular breaks
Other adjustments may need more careful thought and consideration, but what is required will depend largely on the symptoms the individual experiences – and the only way to ascertain this is through open dialogue. This can be difficult, in particular if an employee does not feel comfortable disclosing potentially very personal and embarrassing symptoms with their manager. There are some practical steps employers can take to help combat this though, such as:
1. Open communications and acknowledgement
Consider implementing a menopause policy making it clear to employees that, as a company, you are aware of the potential difficulties individuals may face, and what support the business is able, and willing, to provide.
2. Menopause champions
Some managers will be more approachable than others on certain topics. This is not always a ‘failing’ by anybody, but different people may feel more comfortable opening up to some managers over others. Having menopause champions who are aware of the wide ranging and potential severity of menopause symptoms, should be able to discuss any challenges employees are facing, and assist them in considering reasonable adjustments. In turn, this can increase an employer’s awareness of potential issues and help them to provide the necessary support to ensure performance levels are maintained. It’s about making employees feel supported and cared for, ultimately leading to a more motivated, content and stable workforce.
3. Agile working
Businesses who are able to consider agile working for employees in general may reap rewards. That’s because it can support employees to manage their symptoms around their work without having to raise it as a formal issue and without it necessarily affecting job performance.
As with any reasonable adjustments, they will need to be tailored to individual circumstances and needs and they should be discussed and agreed with the employee before being implemented. Individual business needs and resources will also impact upon what adjustments are reasonable.
Failure to consider reasonable adjustments could leave employers exposed. It is also likely to result in a poorly motivated workforce who are unable to perform to the best of their abilities.
With greater understanding of the effects of menopause, and by maintaining open dialogue with staff, this will help employers to not only minimise the risk of successful tribunal claims, but it will enable them to better accommodate employee needs – potentially improving performance, morale and employee retention rates.