Following World Menopause Day this month, employers have been reflecting on how best to deal with employees going through the menopause.
The menopause typically affects female employees in their late forties or early fifties and lasts for, on average, about four years. Typical symptoms include fatigue, mood swings, night sweats, heavy periods, headaches, weight gain and general aches and pains. However, these can vary dramatically between individuals.
A trans-man – a person who is going through a gender change from woman to man – can also experience similar symptoms.
Since symptoms can be embarrassing and the menopause can feel like a very personal issue, affected employees do not always make their employers aware of their condition.
However, employers can take positive action to help menopausal employees by:
- Ensuring that they have provided a suitable working environment with adequate toilet facilities, air conditioning and cold drinking water readily available
- Allowing reasonable uniform or dress code changes when required, in order to make employees more comfortable
- Permitting flexible working hours to cope with sleep disturbances
- Giving time off (paid or unpaid) for medical appointments
- Conducting health and safety assessments, when necessary
- Including a menopause policy in their handbook
- Allocating a person within the organisation to talk to about well-being issues
- Holding confidential, sensitive and respectful conversations with employees who wish to discuss the effect which the menopause has on their employment
Many women who have troubling symptoms choose to undergo hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which is available as tablets, skin patches, a gel or implants. However, it can have unpleasant side effects and is not suitable for all women. As with any medical condition, employers cannot insist that menopausal employees undertake any treatment, even if doing so may improve their quality of work or their attendance. Some people find that avoiding certain foods, exercising, keeping cool and reducing stress levels help, without the need for medication.
Due to the potential duration and seriousness of the symptoms, the menopause has been held in Employment Tribunals to be a disability, in the legal sense. There is also a risk of age discrimination or sex discrimination claims, if reasonable adjustments are not made.
Therefore, employers must be careful not to discriminate against those individuals going through the menopause, whether they are workers, employees or job applicants and any absence due to the menopause should not lead to a disciplinary warning.
For more information, or for help implementing a menopause policy, please contact our Employment Law team on 02920 853794 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.