There are more women in the workplace, who are aged 45+, than ever before. However, there is still a sort of taboo around the word ‘menopause’ and people can feel uncomfortable talking about the subject.
This includes many women, who are embarrassed to talk about their symptoms, and experiences during menopause. Possibly feeling that employers/ colleagues (not limited to the male species) are uneasy or uncomfortable participating in conversations about menopause.
What exactly is Menopause?
Menopause is when a woman goes through biological change. Whereby they stop having periods and are no longer able to get pregnant naturally. This is because of a decline in a woman’s estrogen levels.
This change is a natural part of aging for women, and usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age.
Symptoms of the menopause
When a woman is going through menopause, symptoms can vary between individuals, both in what symptoms are experienced and the severity of the symptom.
Menopausal symptoms can include:
- Hot flushes;
- Night sweats;
- Difficulty sleeping;
- Affected memory and concentration.
These symptoms can last for around 4 years, but for some, this can be much longer. The bodily changes can happen over a few months or even gradually change over a number of years.
Menopause at work
Menopausal symptoms can potentially have a large impact on a women’s working life. As symptoms can be infrequent and unpredictable. Also, it’s important to consider that symptoms between women can vary, therefore a blanket approach to managing symptoms isn’t appropriate.
- Imagine facing a long day at work, after only 1 or 2 hours of sleep
- Imagine having a hot flush in the middle of an important meeting and becoming very anxious about your appearance and how to excuse yourself
It’s not surprising that women often experience feelings of embarrassment and reduced confidence in the workplace.
A common menopausal symptom can be anxiety and can cause women to lose confidence in their everyday and working abilities. They may start to believe that they are less valuable to their employers as a result of menopausal issues interfering with their work.
However, it is unusual that these thoughts are actually shared by the employer although there are still a few antiquated practices and businesses out there. Nevertheless, these thoughts can cause menopausal women to choose to reduce working hours or even leave employment altogether.
Managing the Menopause: Advice for employers
As an employer, your employee’s health, welfare, and safety should be a priority as it is a responsibility. This includes women who are going through menopause. This could be recognising that women may require additional support when they are experiencing menopausal symptoms to aid their ability to work successfully through them. This in turn could mean that you are able to retain a dedicated female employee who may have otherwise left because of insufficient support.
Creating an advertised, open, but confidential, communication channel for women to discuss problems or concerns related to menopause at work is the first big step. Encourage communication about symptoms, especially where menopausal women are managed by younger/male employees. Ensure that all employees have an understanding of what menopause is and how it affects work so that they can identify and solve any related issues with confidence.
You should be thinking about what occupational practices you could introduce to support women suffering from symptoms of menopause. For example;
- Flexible working/later start times to combat issues caused by sleep disturbance;
- Flexible sickness absence procedures to cater for menopause-related sickness absence;
- Work facilities such as access to cold water, restrooms, private space, ventilation or alternative uniforms if uniforms are worn at work;
- Being mindful as to whether symptoms are affecting performance and/or attendance at work;
- Working closely with occupational health specialists will certainly help overcome any embarrassing communication channels and will also help the business to identify any other reasonable adjustments that may make working life easier for menopausal women.
Does menopause amount to a disability in law?
In order for menopause to be classed as a disability in England and Wales, the law requires that the condition must have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out day-to-day activities. As such it should not automatically be assumed that a woman going through menopause will attract protection in the workplace provided by The Equality Act 2010, it is advisable to look at each case on its own facts.
The failure to make reasonable adjustments may also lead to a discrimination claim as it is a breach of the law. Given that menopause usually affects women of a certain age you should ensure that working practices do not adversely affect women of menopausal age, to avoid any claims of sex and/or age discrimination.
For example, an employer imposing a strict uniform policy and refusing any requests to wear different attire during the menopausal cycle. This is because when a menopausal woman is having a hot flush, the uniform may reveal sweat patches easily or becomes transparent which can be embarrassing and very upsetting for the affected employee. If the employer refuses to make changes to the uniform this could amount to indirect sex discrimination.
You should be alert to any problems that may arise for menopausal working women and you should be taking steps to make adjustments in the workplace, just as you would for any other employee struggling with their health.
Employers should seek legal advice wherever possible where they have concerns about actual or perceived female-only health issues. Discrimination on the basis of a protected characteristic is not only unlawful but opens up a liability for potentially unlimited damages. Apart from this, and often more damaging, discriminatory conduct can interfere with workplace morale, demotivate female employees, and set the tone for a workforce that is not fully engaged.
If you’d like to discuss menopause and the workplace please get in touch with our team of employment experts. Call us on 01782 662424 or email us at email@example.com