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7 top tips for coping with menopause at work from face2faceHR

We caught up with Kathryn Rodgers who shares her guide on how best to support employees going through menopause.

Written by Rachael Nichol
Published 22.11.2023

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1 in 10 women who worked during menopause have left a job due to their symptoms and face2faceHR is here to change that.

Boasting two decades of HR experience, founder Kathryn Rodgers understands the workplace challenges of menopause and the need to support employees during this phase of life.

face2faceHR Newcastle takes pride in delivering a friendly, personalised service that tailors solutions for your business and employees that’s free from complex jargon, ensuring you support your team in the best way.

Whether you’re seeking guidance on educating yourself about menopause support or need insights into adapting your work environment to aid employees facing menopause, Kathryn is here to share her expertise.

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INTRODUCE A MENOPAUSE POLICY AT WORK

When implementing policies for your business, ensure they benefit your team. Unread or unused guidance adds no value, and there’s no legal requirement for a menopause policy.

Yet, menopausal and peri-menopausal women are a growing part of the UK workforce, with varying symptom onset from late 20s to late 40s. Even if your team isn’t affected now, they may have friends, family, or customers who are. Effective approaches prioritise education and understanding before operational details.

Menopausal experiences differ widely, impacting some minimally and others significantly. Ignoring these challenges isn’t acceptable, as recent cases have shown, leading to substantial compensation. Leicester County Council was ordered to pay £37,000 for unfairly dismissing an employee due to menopausal symptoms.

In a multi-generational workforce, tailor support to individual needs. Like any health issue, a culture promoting open communication and timely support is essential when addressing menopause-related matters at work.

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UNDERSTAND MENOPAUSE SYMPTOMS

The impact of menopause is very much a two-way street – just as symptoms can affect productivity, attendance and engagement levels, workplace factors such as the environment, any uniform requirements, and the level of support available can also significantly impact an individual’s experience of menopause.

Before considering adjustments, I’d encourage all employers to understand what menopausal symptoms can look like so they can be alert to them. This doesn’t mean jumping to conclusions when you think symptoms “might” be affecting someone and I’d certainly advise being cautious of suggesting to a colleague that they might be menopausal – however, if you can see that one of your team isn’t quite themselves either physically or mentally, you can absolutely have a general chat about their wellbeing and any support needed, and agree next steps from there.

If symptoms are significant, a more detailed risk assessment may be needed – templates are available on the Health and Safety Executive website here.

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ADJUSTMENTS FOR SUPPORTING MENOPAUSE AT WORK

  • Ensure easy access to cold drinking water.
  • Provide convenient access to toilets.
  • Allow control over the workspace temperature.
  • Offer adequate and flexible breaks.
  • Be flexible with uniform requirements or provide additional uniform items.
  • Adapt working arrangements, like location, tasks, or hours, temporarily or long-term.
  • Grant time off for medical appointments.

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all checklist for these adjustments. It varies case by case and should be regularly reviewed. Schedule catchups with your team members to ensure the measures are effective and consider any necessary changes.

Keep in mind that the legal requirement is to make reasonable adjustments, which can differ from business to business. Small companies with ten employees won’t be expected to do the same as large corporations with thousands of employees.

Davina McCall: Sex, Myths and the Menopause

EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION

It’s a couple of years old now, but if you missed it at the time, watching Davina McCall: Sex, Myths and the Menopause on ITVX is a good place to start.

Thanks to Davina, there are now lots of free educational resources available – the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development (CIPD) has free guidance available for people managers here, as does ACAS.

If you’d like to arrange more detailed support tailored to your business, I’d recommend speaking to a specialist like Miss Menopause – she’s North East based, too.

 

BE AWARE OF DISCRIMINATION

It’s important to know that, legally, menopause is not a protected characteristic, as the UK government rejected its inclusion in March 2023. Menopause discrimination typically falls under existing protected characteristics: age, sex, and disability.

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Employers may discriminate if they:

  • Fail to make reasonable adjustments.
  • Don’t assess a link between menopause and an employee’s behaviour before taking action.
  • Make off-hand comments related to menopause, which could constitute harassment.

Harassment or victimisation tied to a protected characteristic is considered discrimination. It’s defined as unwanted conduct that violates dignity and creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, or offensive environment. Even unintentional actions can be discriminatory if they have a negative impact.

Discrimination occurs when there’s factual evidence of less favourable treatment due to a protected characteristic without another logical explanation.

To prevent discrimination, education and awareness are crucial. Understanding menopause and its potential effects can reduce perceived discriminatory behaviour. Training your managers to handle sensitive discussions and address unacceptable behaviour is essential.

If you receive a complaint (grievance), handle it fairly and transparently following the ACAS Code of Practice, which can often be done informally.

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DON’T LET MENOPAUSE HINDER YOUR EMPLOYEE’S CAREER

When it comes to managing career development and progression in your business, ensure they are accessible to all and based on fair, objective criteria. This is a significant step in preventing discrimination.

If you have an employee whose menopausal symptoms significantly affect their work experience, have an open conversation about how it may impact their career goals. Simple adjustments, such as changing the timing or duration of performance discussions, can be beneficial. Some might need extra time to prepare, or a more structured conversation than before.

Suppose an individual’s symptoms are so severe, that they can qualify as a disability. In that case, it’s important to record menopause-related sickness separately and exclude it from formal procedures like disciplinary or redundancy actions. This ensures fair treatment and support for those going through severe menopausal challenges in their careers.

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UNDERSTAND YOUR LEGAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR MENOPAUSE SUPPORT

Employers have a primary legal responsibility under the Health and Safety Act to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their employees, including addressing menopause symptoms. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Decisions should be made case by case. When in doubt, seeking advice from an occupational health consultant, with the employee’s consent, can be beneficial.

If an employee’s symptoms significantly impact their daily activities, it may meet the Equality Act’s definition of a disability. Recent case law has established this, resulting in rulings of unfair dismissal and discrimination due to inadequate consideration of menopause symptoms. Sickness related to these symptoms should be tracked separately and excluded from formal procedures.

As the legal landscape evolves, employers can establish their own criteria and procedures for addressing leave and reasonable adjustments for those experiencing menopausal symptoms. Recognize that menopause affects individuals differently, so raising awareness, promoting open dialogue, and addressing individual needs are vital for both supporting your team and safeguarding your company against legal claims.

For more information on coping with menopause at work, visit face2faceHR’s website.

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