October 2021 has been designated as “World Menopause Awareness month” by the International Menopause Society (IMS), in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), with the aim of raising awareness of the issue and support options. We are therefore taking the opportunity to highlight related issues that may occur in the workplace.
It is becoming increasingly recognised that this is a health and wellbeing concern for staff and needs to be handled sensitively by employers as part of their duty of care.
Failure to do so can result in not only a loss of working hours and productivity, or of women leaving work altogether, but also claims against the employer who fails to recognise and address issues arising.
If an employee or worker is put at a disadvantage or treated less favourably because of their menopause symptoms, this could result in a claim for discrimination connected to a protected characteristic, particularly sex or age. Thoughtless comments about menopause could also lead to claims of harassment on grounds of sex or age.
Menopause symptoms vary widely from person to person and in their severity and persistence. Symptoms which are long lasting and have a significant effect could meet the definition of a disability for which reasonable adjustments are required. Certain other conditions classed as disabilities, or their treatments, can trigger early menopause, and symptoms related will therefore need to be addressed sensitively.
There may be very simple facilities or arrangements that can alleviate symptoms if put in place in consultation with those who may be affected. These can include sitting close to open windows or fans. However, it is important that managers are aware that symptoms can vary greatly, and they should not make assumptions or use a “one size fits all” approach. They should also be aware that there are symptoms which cannot be specifically relieved by action in the workplace, but can still affect sufferers in the workplace , such as the consequences of lack of sleep.
Employees affected by menopause should feel comfortable in raising issues, but this may not always be the case particularly if there is a male dominated workplace or management structure. Although all managers should develop awareness, employers can encourage any issues to be raised at an early stage by ensuring that there is at least one appropriate designated manager who staff know they can approach and receive support.
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Northern Ireland Committee and the Labour Relations Agency have together produced the guidance ‘Promoting Equality in Employment for Women Affected by the Menopause’, which can be accessed using the link below. This provides advice and guidance in an accessible form. Readers in GB should note that the guidance will be relevant and helpful there too.
As always, if you are aware of specific issues with your workforce or need specific advice in this area, please get in touch with us.