The matter of support for those experiencing the menopause at work is a topic that’s attracted a lot of media attention recently. There have been instances of employees facing disciplinary action or losing their jobs as a result of taking time off work because of the effects of menopause.
Until quite recently, it’s fair to say the menopause has been something of a taboo in the workplace. Many employers don’t know how to talk about it, managers aren’t properly trained to provide support and the employee is often too embarrassed or fearful to make any problems known.
The effects of the menopause can impact on an employee’s performance, attendance and mental health, to name a few areas. While issues with performance and attendance can become a problem for employers, it is important that they can grasp an understanding of the reasons why and be in a position to acknowledge this and offer help to the employee where the menopause plays a part.
There has been an increase in the number of employment tribunal claims where menopause is a factor. An employee losing their job because they have needed time off work or where performance has fallen below standards could amount to an unfair dismissal. Similarly, employees might claim they have been discriminated against on grounds of sex or disability. While the menopause isn’t automatically classed as a disability, it’s certainly possible that any substantial effects of this which impact normal day-to-day activities could amount to such.
While there are calls to make the menopause a disability under the Equality Act, there are perhaps more arguments why this shouldn’t be the case. First and foremost, a key feature in the legal definition of ‘disability’ is that there must be a physical or mental impairment. The menopause is a natural part of a woman’s life and it isn’t generally considered an impairment. Secondly, categorizing the menopause as a disability might place a disproportionate burden on employers in relation to those employees who suffer minimal effects which could be balanced by ensuring that employers afford the acknowledgment and support to those who need it.
So, how can employers break the taboo and be more accepting of the menopause and its effects in the workplace? Below are a few suggestions that may be useful:
1. Introduce a menopause policy outlining what support is available to employees and how they can access this;
2. Educate managers and provide appropriate training on the subject so they know the signs to look out for and how they can help the employee;
3. Be mindful of the workplace culture and consider how the effects of menopause can be ‘normalised’. As an example, a business that is generally accepting of flexible working might offer a more comfortable environment for somebody struggling with the effects of menopause.
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