Women make up a significant portion of the workforce, so it is hardly surprising that gender equality in the workplace has become an important topic in recent decades.
Here Katie Ash, Head of Employment Law at Banner Jones Solicitors, which has signed the Menopause Workplace Pledge, talks about what employers need to know if they have a member of staff who is experiencing menopause symptoms that are affecting their work.
According to the charity Wellbeing of Women, “around 25% of women will have no menopause symptoms, 25% will have a horrific experience and 50% will have some symptoms at some time, so this has a huge impact on the workplace”.
They also tell us that “around 900,000 have quit their job because of the menopause”. That’s a truly eye-opening statistic, and so it is hardly surprising that we have seen an increase in enquiries on this matter of late.
While the symptoms of menopause do vary from person to person, for many it can be a difficult and stressful time, with some people experiencing both physical as well as emotional changes that can have a significant impact on their ability to continue working as normal.
What do you need to do as an employer?
It is very important that employers are aware of the issues that affect people experiencing the menopause in the workplace and that they deal with issues arising in a sensitive way – not only because that is the right thing to do, but also in line with the Equality Act 2010 which protects workers against discrimination.
While menopause itself is not a protected characteristic, sex is. And so any employee or worker who is treated less favourably as a result of any associated symptoms could bring a claim against their employer if they feel they have been treated less favourably as a result.
That means menopause symptoms should not factor into any decision made relating to, for example, promotions or redundancies.
Make reasonable adjustments
Equally, as with any ongoing mental or physical illness, employers should look at any reasonable adjustments that can be made – either to the working pattern, location or role-related tasks – to remove any disadvantage that the employee might experience because of it.
For example, something as simple as a more relaxed dress code, more flexible work times or more regular breaks, or even simply moving a workspace so that it is closer to better ventilation, might make a real difference.
One of the most effective ways to both prepare for any such situation, or to manage the matter once it arises, is to keep the lines of communication open. Providing training to managers to ensure they are equipped to offer support will also provide reassurance and ensure that any conversation is dealt with appropriately.
If an employee feels that they have the support of the team around them, they are far more likely to open up about the challenges they are experiencing and, as a result, to discuss potential ways to manage or mitigate those issues – including mental health conditions linked to increased stress, such as anxiety or depression.
Don’t compromise health and safety
Of course, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 also plays an important role here, as it states that an employer must do what it can to ensure the health, safety and welfare of everyone at work. A failure to comply can have very serious consequences for businesses, including fines.
If someone is struggling as a result of their menopause symptoms, and it is compromising their safety or wellbeing, or the safety of others, an employer needs to take steps to address it.
Again, an open dialogue with employees which allows them to raise concerns about their physical or mental health will help, especially if you can demonstrate that procedures are in place to help them continue to do their job.