18th October is the official World Menopause Day with the whole of October dedicated to building awareness and championed by the International Menopause Society (IMS) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

This year’s theme for World Menopause Day 2023 is cardiovascular disease, as the hormonal changes associated to menopause can have a wide impact on cardiovascular health. One of the main reasons for bringing awareness to menopause is to highlight the effects and diseases that can occur during and after menopause.

Most women reach the menopause stage when they are around the age of 50, however the effects of menopause can start up to 10 years prior and even earlier in some cases. This stage is classed as “perimenopause”.

Menopause can be a stressful and a difficult time especially as it effects everyone differently.

In this blog we look at what employers can do to support their employees and steps to take to avoid creating HR problems in the future.

Symptoms of menopause

Some symptoms can be quite severe and debilitating and may have a significant impact on the individuals everyday activities. For many, menopause symptoms last around 4 years, but in many cases symptoms can last much longer.

For employers it can lead to:

  • the appearance of performance issues caused by a struggle to concentrate, focus and remember things

  • low morale and upset of the employee who is having menopausal symptoms

  • an increase of mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression

  • an increase in sickness absence

For employees experiencing menopause, this could lead to:

  • them considering leaving their jobs

  • issues with self-confidence

  • a decline in their mental health

  • feeling confused or powerless due to the menopausal changes

An employee may not tell you they are experiencing symptoms of menopause. However, you may notice an employee not being themselves. It’s important to have a supportive welfare conversation with the employee.

When doing so you should:

  • not make any assumptions about their health

  • not ask direct questions about whether the issues are related to menopause

  • not make any jokes or comments about age related conditions such as menopause

The conversation should instead cover:

  • your concern about their overall health and well-being

  • your concern about any noted decline in performance or productivity

  • noted concerns regarding any increased absence levels

  • changes you have noticed in their character and mood

  • whether there are any reasonable adjustments or support that would help them at work

  • whether there is anything you can do to help them in general as their employer

The conversation should allow the employee to feel supported in their choice to disclose any symptoms or health issues they may be experiencing, or not. However, it is the employee’s choice whether to tell their employer about any medical conditions.

If an employee says they are suffering with menopausal symptoms, you should:

  • encourage them to get help from their GP

  • encourage them to seek help from specific support services

  • ask for their consent to refer them for an occupational health assessment

  • give them the option of talking to a mental health first aider if you have one

  • suggest they use your employee assistance programme if you have one

  • encourage development of a support network outside of work

  • let them know they can approach you with any problems they have

Menopause policy and training

It’s a good idea to have company policies for menopause. Written policies are a positive step towards providing support and inclusion in the workplace for those with menopause. It is important that the employer implements them. You should make sure all managers, supervisors and team leaders are trained to understand:

  • how to treat the subject of menopause with dignity, respect and confidentiality like with other medical conditions

  • how to listen and talk sensitively about the topic of menopause

  • how to conduct appropriate and supportive conversations with employees who raise a menopause concern

  • have knowledge of the effects of menopause on an individual, including the stages, and how it affects employees in the workplace

  • relevant options for support and reasonable adjustments that can be made in the workplace

  • how to approach the suggestion of occupational health referrals with the employee

  • how it is inappropriate and a serious disciplinary offence for anyone in the company to make jokes about menopause

  • how it is inappropriate to assume someone is experiencing menopause due to their age

  • how some employees may be affected by misunderstanding of gender identity, in relation to the menopause

  • it is important to ensure someone is always addressed and referred to in their chosen pro-noun and the gender they identify with

  • employment law relating to both menopause

Your health and safety obligations

Employers have a legal duty to assess risks to the health and safety of your employees. Risk assessments should consider the needs of employees through menopause. You need to make sure the working environment will not worsen their symptoms.

There is some stigma around talking about menopause. Many find it embarrassing or are reluctant to discuss the impact of their symptoms. This may especially be the case if the person does not identify as the gender commonly assigned to that condition.

Avoiding discrimination

It can be classed as discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 to treat someone negatively due to a disability. In certain situations menopause meets the definition of a disability.

You should:

  • think about the reasonable adjustments that you can make

  • consider if absence or performance issues are due to menopause

  • not put absence or performance issues due to menopause towards an employee’s overall record

  • make sure employees are not subjected to comments or jokes

Failing to consider the above could lead to employment tribunal claims of disability, sex or age discrimination.

Menopause and disability

For menopause to be classed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010 the law requires:

  • the condition to have a physical or mental impairment

  • a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the ability to carry out day to day activities

Only an employment tribunal can decide if a condition meets the definition of a disability under the Equality Act 2010. If there is a possibility it could be met, you should get the employee’s consent to refer them to occupational health. An assessment will provide the employee with additional support and guidance.

There are several recent employment tribunal claims where employees claim disability discrimination due to menopause.

Need advice?

To find out more on what you can do to support your team, get in touch by calling 0800 955 6111, or email contactus@rradar.com and we can talk you through the steps/actions that you can put in place.