While there is no specific duty in relation to the menopause, employers have a general duty to protect the health and wellbeing of their staff, and women experiencing the symptoms of the menopause should be treated fairly at work.
Because the menopause affects women of a particular age group, employers who don’t take steps to provide support could find they are faced with claims for sex or age discrimination. Where the symptoms are long term, there is also a risk of a disability discrimination claim. With compensation for discrimination claims being uncapped, it is particularly important that employers take steps to avoid the risks.
In addition to the risk of a claim, there is also a risk to employers in terms of reduced productivity, high levels of absence and the loss of good members of staff who decide they do not feel supported.
Will a policy help?
In general, workplace policies operate as a clear statement explaining how staff must act in certain circumstances, or how the organisation approaches a particular issue. They provide fairness and consistency across the organisation and in some cases, help to minimise the risks of potential claims. They can also assist employers with defending discrimination claims if the employer can demonstrate that it took all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination.
A menopause policy can help to educate your staff about the menopause and provide them with a framework to handle conversations about the menopause. It also demonstrates a culture and commitment to supporting women experiencing symptoms of the menopause in the workplace.
What else should employers do?
The introduction of a menopause policy alone cannot be relied upon in defending discrimination claims. Communicating the policy clearly to your staff is a must, but to be effective, you should give appropriate training on the policy and what it means in practice. Training would also be useful on how to handle conversations about the menopause. Once initial training has been given to staff, you should provide regular up-to-date training to ensure that it remains current and does not become stale.
In addition to the policy, it will be useful to promote an awareness of the typical symptoms women may experience with the menopause and encourage people to talk about it more openly. Employers should be careful however, not to push this too far as not everyone will want to talk and confidentiality about specific individuals should obviously be maintained.
You also need to educate your staff, particularly your managers, about the interplay of a menopause policy with your other workplace policies, which deal with performance issues, sickness absence, equal opportunities, flexible working etc., when dealing with menopause-related issues
The introduction of a menopause policy is a positive first step to raising awareness of the menopause and showing a commitment to supporting your staff who are affected by the menopause, but to successfully safeguard your organisation it should not be the only step you take.
About the Author
Kate Benefer is a Partner in the Employment team at Royds Withy King in Oxford and she was the guest speaker at our HR Hub in June 2021.
If you'd like to talk to Kate about any of the issues raised in her presentation or in this article, please contact her on 01865 792300 or email firstname.lastname@example.org