Why your company needs a menopause policy
Posted on 28th February 2024 at 01:00
The menopause can have significant physical and mental impact on women, affecting both their personal and professional lives. The number of tribunal cases referencing menopause has significantly increased.
It may be tempting to view this as an issue for each individual to manage but it's a good idea to implement a menopause policy to address how your organisation supports its employees. Not only will this support your employees, it will benefit your business.
Menopause has a serious impact on work
73% of employees surveyed have experienced symptoms related to menopause transition. The most common symptoms, reported by two-thirds of women surveyed, are mood disturbances, anxiety, depression, memory loss, panic attacks, loss of confidence and reduced concentration.
77% of women experience one or more symptoms they describe as ‘very difficult’, including:
experience trouble sleeping (84%)
experience brain fog (73%)
hot flushes or night sweats (70%)
anxiety or depression (69%)
joint pain or stiffness (67%)
heavy periods (44%)
heart palpitations (41%).
Two-thirds of women with experience of menopausal symptoms say they have had a mostly negative effect on them at work. Over half of respondents were able to think of a time when they were unable to go into work due to their menopause symptoms.
Avoid the risk of discrimination claims
Discrimination occurs if an employee is treated less favourably because of a protected characteristic – including their age, sex or disability. Where a policy impacts less favourably on a group with a protected characteristic this could be indirect discrimination. Employees treated badly due to menopause have successfully claimed discrimination based on age, sex and disability.
In Merchant v BT, the employer breached their own policies by failing to investigate whether health factors were causing poor performance - despite Ms Merchant having provided a doctors letter. The tribunal felt that the employer would not have taken “this bizarre and irrational approach with other non-female-related conditions” and that a man in similar circumstances would not have been dismissed.
A v Bonmarche was brought to the Employment Tribunal in Scotland, but raises some useful points for employers to consider. A's manager created a hostile environment by making comments about A's age, making fun of her in front of staff and customers. Despite making jokes about her menopause, he refused to discuss it properly with her, and refused to adjust the temperature of the shop. The tribunal “understood her to be comparing her case with another employee who was not a female of menopause age.” The tribunal found that A had been treated less favourably than someone who was not a female of menopausal age. Her manager "had created a hostile environment for her and that this was related to her status as a woman going through the menopause.” Like A, 41% of women said menopause had been treated as a joke in their workplace.
In Rooney v Leicester City Council (2021) the Employment Appeal Tribunal found that the menopause can qualify as a disability where symptoms did have a significant impact on day-to-day activities and are likely to last longer than 12 months. The claimant had been suffering insomnia (causing fatigue), light headedness, confusion, stress, depression, anxiety, palpitations, memory loss, poor concentration, migraine, hot flushes and sweating for two years. Due to these symptoms she had forgotten to attend events, meetings and appointments, lost possessions, forgotten to lock her car and house when leaving them, and left the iron and cooker on. She spent long periods in bed due to the fatigue. While not all women will experience the menopause in the same way, those who do qualify as disabled are protected under the Equality Act 2010.
Where employees are disabled, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace or practices. This could include offering flexibility, relaxing your uniform policy or dress code, or taking the effect of menopause into account when managing poor performance. Failing to make reasonable adjustments could lead to a discrimination claim.
Worryingly, a survey by the CIPD found more than 10% of women going through the menopause felt discriminated against. One survey found that 13 per cent of women who suffered ill health due to the menopause had to go through a disciplinary procedure.
Retain talent and improve diversity
There are more than 4.3 million working women aged 45-60 in the UK, so menopause affects a huge number of the workforce. Almost 900,000 women in the UK left their jobs because of symptoms of the menopause, and a further 25 per cent of those surveyed have considered resigning. 14% have gone part time because of the menopause.
Failure to support employees through the menopause could lose your business a significant number of talented, experienced employees
One in five women passed on the chance to go for a promotion they would have otherwise considered and for many women this comes at a time when they might otherwise be moving into senior management roles. Supporting women through the menopause could contribute to achieving a diverse senior leadership, and all the benefits that brings.
Get ahead before it becomes a problem
Currently only 24% of those surveyed said their organisation has a policy or other support. 43% didn't and a third weren't sure. This means some employers may be offering support, but not promoting it well enough for employees to make the most of it.
It is not a good idea to wait until an employee approaches you about their symptoms. 26% of women who have been employed during the menopause had taken time off work due to their symptoms, but just one third of those gave menopause as the main reason on their sick note. And 3 in 10 women have experienced delays in getting diagnosed, so it is sensible to consider the symptoms rather than the diagnosis.
Having a clear, easily accessible policy as part of your handbook will make sure staff are aware of your approach, and ensure employees feel supported when the time comes.
Small changes can make a big difference
A good menopause policy isn’t just about mitigating the impact of menopause on your business. It should help women manage the impact of the menopause practically, emotionally and by creating a respectful and open culture. Women who were not supported at work were more likely to say the effect of menopause was mostly negative (84% compared to 71%).
Your menopause policy doesn’t have to include huge changes to how your organisation works. Small changes can have a big impact on women’s experience. For example:
31% of those experiencing the menopause said they would value flexible hours
27% wanted to be offered mental health support.
23% wanted changes to the temperature and ventilation in the workplace
22% wanted increased refreshment breaks
The fact that your company cares enough to have a policy may itself make a big difference to your employees' emotional wellbeing. As one respondent put it, "I truly believe that if my boss was understanding and aware of what I'm going through mentally I'd feel more relaxed, and my mental symptoms wouldn't be so severe."
But be sure to take the issue seriously. Avanti West Coast are facing a backlash for handing out a menopause support package, which included a jelly baby “in case you feel like biting someone’s head off,” a paperclip “to help you keep it all together” and a tea bag because “tea makes everything better.” While the gift was well-intentioned, many felt the humorous tone was inappropriate and the suggested solutions belittled the real impact of menopause. Responses described the package as "patronising”, “insulting", "reductive, performative and wasteful," and a “perfect illustration of how women’s pain and women’s medical concerns are dismissed.”
What should employers do
Implement a clear policy to make employees aware of the support available, and train your managers to understand and apply it. You could also provide training for managers to understand and identify the symptoms of menopause. A better understanding should help them feel more comfortable starting sensitive conversations about menopause and understand what might be insensitive. This should also help your employees to feel more comfortable approaching managers.
Consider the effect of working environment on women with menopause (temperature, ventilations) and how you can make it more comfortable (provide rest areas, quiet rooms, and fans or cooling systems.)
Considering policies which may impact disproportionately on women experiencing menopause. For example, you might relax your uniform policy or dress code to allow cooler clothing, or layers so women have better control over their temperature. Your flexible working policy might be another key area to consider. The survey by the CIPD found that 67% of women experiencing menopause feel that more organisations supporting home and hybrid working will make dealing with menopause symptoms easier. A change working hours can help women suffering insomnia and related fatigue, while working from home avoids a commute. Remote working also allows women more control over their environment to help their symptoms.
Both the Rooney and Merchant cases came about because of employers poor handling of performance issues. The CIPD suggests that you should consider menopause related absence separately, as dismissal based on this absence could be discriminatory. However, eight out of ten women say their employer hasn’t shared information, trained staff, or put in place a menopause absence policy.
How we can help
Our set of tailored, easy-to-read policies includes a menopause policy. Find out more about our handbook.
We can also help you to train managers about the legal implications of the menopause. If you have any concerns about managing employees experiencing the menopause, we can help you to meet your legal obligations.
Get in touch if you need help or advice.
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