Earlier this year, an office worker was awarded compensation after her employer said that menopause was her “excuse for everything” and made her position in the company “untenable and intolerable”.
The employment tribunal heard Mrs Anderson had called in sick to work after experiencing heavy menopausal bleeding and offered to work from home instead. In response to this she was told by her boss and company director to “just get on with it” as “everyone f****** gets it”.
The tribunal ruled that the director’s comments were insulting and demeaning and amounted to statutory harassment. As a result, the company was ordered to pay her more than £37,000 in compensation for harassment and unfair dismissal.
So, what should employers learn from this and what should they do or put in place to support and deal with menopause in the workplace?
Menopause and the law
It’s important that employers have steps, procedures, and support in place to help any employees who are affected by menopause. Regular chats with staff can be a good way of avoiding potential legal action as you can listen to any concerns and resolve issues early.
Employers should also be aware of which laws menopause relates to. These include:
Despite menopause not being listed as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, if an employee is put at a disadvantage and treated less favourably because of their menopause symptoms, this could be discrimination as it may relate to a protected characteristic.
As menopause is usually related to the age of the person, less favourable treatment because of the symptoms could be classed as age discrimination.
Employers should remember that age discrimination and harassment also apply to younger people who go through medical or early menopause. For example, if a colleague makes a rude joke about young people going through the menopause, then this could count as age discrimination.
Unwanted behaviour about someone’s menopause symptoms could count as harassment or sexual harassment depending on the nature of the behaviour.
In certain cases, the menopause could be considered a disability.
If someone is disabled, an employer must make reasonable adjustments to account for this. For example, this could be that they agree to record absence due to the menopause separately from other sickness leave.
However, it’s a good idea for employers to focus on supporting the member of staff rather than trying to figure out if somebody classes as having a disability.
Gender reassignment discrimination
A person has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment if they are planning to go through, are going through, or have gone through a process to reassign their sex. This could be by changing physical or other attributes.
If an employer puts an employee or worker at a disadvantage or treats them less favourably because they have, or someone thinks they have, the protected characteristic of gender reassignment, this could be discrimination.
Managing the effect of the menopause at work
Menopause is a natural stage of life that affects most people who have a menstrual cycle. Everyone will experience symptoms differently but some can have it quite severely, affecting both mental and physical health.
It’s important for employers to understand the variety of people who can go through the menopause and the variety in symptoms and severity. With this knowledge, they must support every individual equally.
The menopause is classed as a health and wellbeing concern for employees and thus employers need to treat the situation with sensitivity.
Employers should understand that menopause can affect staff at any time, and it can also impact those supporting someone going through it e.g., a relative, partner, colleague etc. Thus, it could be suggested that training and conversations around the menopause should include all members of staff.
How to support employees through the menopause
There are several things an employer should consider when taking into account how symptoms could affect their job role and responsibilities. For example:
- Working long shifts
- Toilet break procedures and rules
- Work uniform that causes discomfort
- Lack of flexibility
There are several steps employers can take to ensure that conversations are had early, and solutions can be made before problems arise.
Employers should look to train all managers, supervisors, and team leaders in:
- How the law relates to the menopause
- How to talk with and encourage people to raise menopause concerns
- How different stages and types of menopauses can affect individuals
- What support and workplace changes are available
- How to deal with menopause issues sensitively and fairly
- How gender identity can link to menopause and why it’s important
If staff know that their managers, supervisors, and team leaders have this type of training, they are likely to feel more confident in approaching them to disclose any issues they are having.
Carrying out health and safety checks
Employers hold the responsibility for health and safety for all staff, even those working from home, by law. They must conduct risk assessments that include, generally assessing the risks to health and safety at work, and minimising, reducing, or removing them.
For those impacted by the menopause, this may include, ensuring symptoms are not made worse by the workplace environment or practices, and making changes to help individuals manage their symptoms.
In terms of the menopause, a risk assessment may include:
- Temperature and ventilation of the workplace
- Material and fit of staff uniform
- Whether there is a room for staff to rest if needed
- Whether toilets are easily accessible
- Whether cold drinking water is available
- Whether managers have been trained on health and safety issues relating to the menopause
Developing a menopause policy
A policy specifically for menopause should be shared across the whole organisation, be regularly reviewed, and be the basis for any training to managers. The menopause policy could contain things such as:
- Explaining what training is provided to managers, supervisors and team leaders
- Explaining who the organisations point of contact is for questions relating to the menopause
- Showing how the organisation is open and trained to talk and listen about the effects of menopause
- The employer’s commitment to support a diverse workforce and prevent discrimination
However, it’s important to keep in mind that employers should make allowances around the policy in place, as each individual experience with the menopause will be different.
Employers should also review their current health, safety and wellbeing policies to make sure they cover any links with the menopause. This could include reviewing:
- Diversity and inclusion policies, for example on sex, race, disability, and gender reassignment
- Flexible working policies
- Absence management policies
- Sickness reporting policies
Managing sickness absence and job performance
If an employee is off sick because of the menopause, the employer should record these absences separately from other absences. This is due to the fact that there may be times when it could be unfair or discriminatory to measure menopause-related absence as part of the person’s overall attendance record.
It’s also good practice for an employer to allow staff to go to medical appointments related to the menopause. There is no legal obligation for this type of time off, but employees and workers might have a right to paid or unpaid time off written in their employment contracts.
Having menopause and wellbeing champions
The champion is there as a point of contact for staff for advice or for someone who isn’t in a managerial role. With the support of the champion, employers and managers could:
- Run workshops to raise awareness
- Let staff know that their employer wants to support anyone having difficulties because of symptoms
- Check that health and safety risk assessments cover the different stages of menopause
- Set up a support network for those affected
- Tell staff where they can find more information
- Reassure them that menopause in the workplace will be handled with sensitivity, dignity, and respect
Contact employment solicitor Katie Bowen Nicholas today for more information or assistance.