Giving rise to a great many column inches and a lot of studio airtime, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) recently issued new guidance for employers on menopause in the workplace. 

Over the last 5 years or so, general awareness of the perimenopause and menopause in the UK has soared, helped in part, by high-profile celebrity support. As a result, as a nation, we are now much better informed about the range of symptoms associated with menopause and how women might be affected. This, in turn, has led many employers to consider what support they might put in place for their female workers and, alongside that, to better understand the legal position. 

With research from the CIPD finding that 67% of working women between 40 and 60 with experience of menopausal symptoms reporting that those symptoms had had a negative impact on them at work, it is important that employers understand the legal protections that are in place for women. The new EHRC guidance, which has been compiled using a number of other organisations as a reference group, including the CIPD, has been designed to help employers understand their legal obligations towards workers experiencing menopausal symptoms. Whilst it does not amount to statutory or binding guidance on employers, it is a useful reminder of the legal issues that can arise. 

The guidance broadly identifies the following key issues for employers to consider:

  • Menopausal symptoms can amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010. It is this point which garnered much of the (mis)reporting when the guidance was published. As with any other physical or mental health condition, a woman suffering from menopausal symptoms will only be considered as having a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act if she meets the threshold legal test set out in the Act (in brief that she has a mental or physical impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities). As we know, the extent and severity of any menopausal symptoms will vary from woman to woman, so not everyone who is suffering from menopausal symptoms will necessarily meet that test – in other words, not all employees with menopausal symptoms are disabled for the purposes of the Act.  
  • Women suffering from the menopause can be protected from discrimination on the grounds of age and sex as well as disability, and in recent years a number of women have successfully sued their employers for discrimination in the Employment Tribunal across all three areas for treatment connected to their menopausal symptoms. 
  • If an employee’s symptoms do meet the legal test for disability, employers are under a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to support those workers to prevent discrimination. The EHRC guidance includes a video with some suggestions about how employers can make workplace adjustments to help women with menopause symptoms (which many employers may be happy to do regardless of whether the legal test for disability is met). The video also explains and gives examples of what may amount to reasonable adjustments (for disability discrimination purposes). 

Leaving legal obligations and discrimination risks to one side, with research from the Fawcett Society finding that one in ten employed women left work due to menopause symptoms, it is not surprising that employers are looking at ways in which they can support their female staff through the menopause in a bid to reduce this loss of talent. 

Menopause is something that all women will experience, and with this in mind, employers who offer a demonstrably supportive menopause-friendly environment (regardless of whether someone meets the legal test for disability) are likely to see the benefits – not only from those for whom menopause is already a reality but also from the younger generation for whom working for an employer with a commitment to workforce well-being will be a priority. 

With that in mind, whilst support measures will vary across different organisations, potential options to explore include:

  • A menopause support hub: consider setting up an internal, online hub where people can easily find out about what support is available internally. You may also want to consider linking to trusted external resources which offer medical information and help.   
  • Line manager guidelines and training: it is important that those experiencing difficulties at work as a result of their menopause symptoms feel that they will be treated seriously and with respect if they choose to raise the issue. Line managers have a crucial role to play here so make sure they are aware of how and when they may be expected to support staff who are struggling with menopause symptoms. The EHRC guidance also contains a helpful video about having conversations about menopause in the workplace. 
  • Wider workplace awareness: consider offering a training session accessible to all on the perimenopause and menopause, the symptoms and how differently people can be affected. This is good for myth-busting as well as assisting with raising awareness. This type of training is usually popular across the board as most people will have family and friends who may be experiencing menopausal symptoms even if they themselves are not and so welcome this opportunity to be better informed.  
  • Menopause networks: some employers have set up workplace networks, which may include initiatives such as virtual coffee mornings or menopause cafés, offering affected staff the opportunity to share their experiences.
  • Menopause champions: the ‘champion’ role is now in place in many workplaces to offer support between colleagues – consider whether menopause champions who could raise awareness of menopause in the workplace, and also act to signpost support available for employees, might play a useful role in your organisation.

These are just a few of the avenues of support you may want to consider but there are many more initiatives that you may want to explore. We know from the advice we’ve been giving, not least since the EHRC released its guidance, that this is an area which employers are actively engaging with. If this is an area you would like to discuss with us, please do get in touch.