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Eight steps to avoid potential pitfalls surrounding menopausal employees

Claire Brook, Employment Law Partner - Aaron & Partners

A top employment lawyer has issued crucial advice to employers and HR bosses on what they must do now after the Government rejected proposals to introduce ‘menopause leave’ pilots in England.

Claire Brook, Employment Law Partner at legal firm Aaron & Partners, said it was vital employers pay close attention to issues surrounding the menopause. She added that employers should now seriously consider creating a policy of their own to prevent issues before they arise.

According to Ms Brook, forward-looking companies should be looking to steal a march on their competitors by creating a workplace culture where staff feel comfortable to talk openly and respectfully about the subject.

It comes after Government ministers rejected a suggestion from the Women and Equalities Committee to make menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act.

Ms Brook said: “The impact of menopause is an important issue for employers to consider – particularly given the number of workers who will be affected by it.

“A recent study by the British Menopause Society revealed 45% of women said their menopause symptoms had a negative impact on their work.

“A big problem is that for many women, these symptoms last for a number of years.”

Back in July 2022, the Committee released its report claiming that the impact of the menopause was causing companies to ‘haemorrhage talent’. It described the Government’s progress on menopause as “glacial”.

It laid out a list of recommendations aimed at tackling the issue – including making menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act and introducing menopause leave pilots. It added that the leave would mean “women are not forced out of work by insensitive and rigid sickness policies”.

Rejecting outright five of the proposals, the Government said it did not believe that introducing or piloting a specific policy for menopause was necessary.

It insisted that it had an alternative plan to improve support for women going through the menopause.

Its recommendation said: “The government’s policy aim, as detailed in the Women’s Health Strategy, is to support menopausal women to remain in the workplace, and to ensure employers are well-equipped to support their workforce during the menopause.

“For this reason, we are focusing our efforts on disseminating best practice and encouraging employers to implement workplace menopause policies and other forms of support such as flexible working, which can play a vital role in supporting people to remain in work. We are concerned that specific menopause leave may be counterproductive to achieving this goal.”

Ms Brook said the proposals being rejected leaves individuals seeking to claim protection via other protected characteristics, namely disability, sex and potentially age.

In light of the news, she said it was now more important than ever that employers and HR teams across the UK put menopause higher on their business agenda.

Over recent months and years, firms have been busy focusing on Covid compliance and emergency pandemic planning, with many forced to prioritise this over equality training and other important aspects of HR.

Ms Brook said that for some employers, that had caused equality training to “fall down the priority list” – a trend that cannot continue.

She has now urged business leaders and directors to quickly get up to speed with the developments and the “many HR risks” surrounding the menopause – a matter fast becoming recognised as one of the biggest workplace equality issues.

She alluded to the fact that a number of recent high-profile cases related to the menopause have highlighted how employees are pursuing discrimination claims following their treatment in the workplace.

She said: “It’s been a long time coming, but menopause has finally become an important issue for employers to consider – particularly given the number of workers who will be affected by menopause.”

It’s now time, Ms Brook said, to develop a strategy to support workers and, where possible, prevent issues before they arise.

She said: “A menopause policy is a fantastic place to start, but not many companies have this in place. Other important steps include raising awareness and organising staff training around the topic of menopause, encouraging dignity and respect, and ensuring teams are aware of their obligations to each other, in particular to avoid inappropriate jokes, and even just ensuring rooms are well ventilated.

“Society is now more willing to discuss personal issues such as the menopause, whereas previous generations would have been less likely to be open about such matters.

“It’s so important to be able to talk openly and respectfully about it, and forward-looking companies should look to steal a march on their competitors by embracing policies such as this.

“For employers identifying their budget for training and looking at what to focus on, I would highly recommend that Equality training including appropriate reference to the menopause is included.”

Ms Brook said businesses should now be making reasonable adjustments for the menopause in the workplace.

 “Legally, if one of your employees meets the definition of disability, then yes, you’d be under a positive duty to make reasonable adjustments.

“But in any event, regardless of whether there’s a legal obligation to do so, it would be a positive step to consider appropriate support and adjustments for employees going through menopause.”

She also advised businesses to warn staff about the consequences of what at first may seem to be harmless banter, but which could cause serious issues such as formal complaints (including harassment), an erosion of trust and confidence in the workplace, sickness absence and increased attrition in addition to the financial and reputational costs of claims.

“It’s all about raising awareness among work groups, which has required specific upskilling and appropriate managed thought in terms of awareness raising around what is appropriate within the workplace,” she added.

Employers should follow these eight steps to avoid the potential HR pitfalls surrounding menopausal employees:

  • Consult employees regarding your approach to supporting workers with menopause
  • Create a menopause policy
  • Provide regular awareness training for staff and incorporate menopause into your equality, dignity and respect training schedule
  • Appoint a ‘menopause champion’ or committee to help communicate messaging and coordinated training
  • Encourage teams to avoid inappropriate jokes or ‘banter’
  • Ensure you have a supportive culture in place
  • Consider health and safety risk assessments for those individuals within the workplace who are experiencing menopause, just as you would undertake a stress or pregnancy risk assessment
  • Update relevant policies such as Anti-Harassment and Bullying, Gossiping, Dignity at Work, Equality and Diversity, Flexible Working and Data Protection

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