On average, menopause tends to occur when women are in their mid to late 40s or early 50s, however this is not always the case. Research has also shown that one in every 100 women will experience menopause before the age of 40, either in their 30s or even earlier.
All employers have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees end ensure that their actions are not in breach of the Equality Act 2010 through discriminating against any employees because of their gender or a disability.
Whilst the condition itself is not protected directly by the Equality Act, the symptoms of menopause if persistent and significant may be classed as a disability if they meet the definition.
Symptoms of the menopause
Physical symptoms of menopause can include the following:
- hot flushes
- night sweats
- poor concentration
- joint aches
- skin irritation and dryness
- dry eyes
- urinary problems
- hair loss
As a result of the above, or as an extension of hormone imbalance, individuals can also experience psychological difficulties. Some workers may feel that to start to go through the menopause signifies a sign of getting older, which can be mentally draining. Furthermore, women who have been unable to have children may also respond negatively to the knowledge that they are starting the menopause. Potential psychological reactions can include the following:
- panic attacks
- mood swings
- problems with memory
- loss of confidence
Supporting colleagues through the menopause
Where employees inform you that they are having difficulties because of the symptoms of the menopause, employers are required to act in a reasonable manner to support the employee at work and in their role. Any discussions and suggestions should be handled sensitively and discretely.
- Implement and maintain a clear mental health policy.
- Provide easy access to toilet facilities by repositioning the employee, which can help to make them feel more secure
- If necessary, allow for the employee to use toilet facilities that are separate from their colleagues, such as disabled toilets
- Take note of hot and cold spots around the office to ensure comfortable office working temperatures and place people in appropriate positions to combat hot flushes.
- Avoiding nylon uniforms if possible
- Consider providing alternative tasks to heavy lifting to combat increased levels of fatigue and muscle strain
- Ensure easy access to natural light and the ability to adjust artificial light
- Allow additional rest breaks if possible to combat fatigue
- Make allowances to additional needs for sickness absence
- Make adjustments to the work day and to targets to reassure workers that they will not be penalised or suffer detriment if they require these adjustments
- Consider allowing flexible working, including working from home if possible.
- Ensure sufficient ventilation and keep office temp level, bearing in mind that the legal minimum requirement is 16 degrees.
Managing time off work
Where symptoms are severe the worker may need time off due to ill health. In these scenarios employers should be understanding and use mechanisms such as return to work meetings to help identify strategies and actions that can support the employee to remain at work if this is practicable. Ultimately workers who are going through the menopause should be treat the same as any other worker who has a long term health condition so employers must ensure equal treatment to avoid the risk of discrimination.
Based on Guidance from the CIPD