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Official menopause guidance issued to employers

menopause word written on wood block. menopause text on table, concept.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has issued guidance to employers in order to clarify their legal obligations towards their workers who are going through the menopause.

Consideration was given at parliamentary level last year as to whether the menopause should be given a special status under employment law, such as automatically qualifying as a disability under the Equality Act 2010, but the Government ultimately decided against this.  Instead, it was left to individual employers to devise their own policies in respect of the menopause.

Employees going through the menopause can suffer symptoms including hot flushes, brain fog and difficulty sleeping.  At its most serious level, the menopause can impact significantly upon an employee’s ability to carry out their normal day-to-day activities. If it reaches such a threshold, then under existing law it could amount to a disability under section 6 of the Equality Act 2010.

Where a woman’s menopause symptoms are sufficiently long-term and serious to have a substantial adverse effect upon her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, employers need to be mindful of their legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to provisions, criteria of practices which would otherwise place the woman at a substantial disadvantage.

An example of a reasonable adjustment would be altering the level of heating in a particular room or removing rules preventing windows being opened in the workplace. Other examples might be adjusting the requirement to stick to strict working patterns so as to accommodate more flexibility into the working day.

Compulsory work uniforms may also fall within this category and employees should consider reasonable adjustments so as to allow women going through the menopause to wear clothes that enable them to feel more comfortable.

The announcement by the EHRC has made the headlines in many news publications. However, it does not actually make any alterations to the existing law. There was already an obligation on employers to make reasonable adjustments where an employee has a disability and it has already been established that in the most serious cases, the symptoms of the menopause can amount to a disability.

It is important that employers focus not solely upon the minimum legal requirements but also the benefits that can be derived from assisting staff who are going through the menopause. Staff retention and productivity can be enhanced by co-operating with staff who are affected.

We have frequently been asked by small businesses and women’s organisations in recent times regarding what a small business should do to assist employees going through the menopause.  We devised a menopause tool-kit recently to provide guidance for employers in this respect.

It is advisable the employers, where possible, have a policy to deal with staff affected by the menopause.  Obviously for small employers, this may seem like a particularly burdensome task, but it is equally important for them to consider the benefits that could be derived from making the workplace more accessible and productive for staff members who would otherwise be suffering severely with symptoms of the menopause.

If the announcement by the EHRC today helps to bring about wider awareness of this issue amongst employers and small businesses, then it can only be a positive step, even though, strictly speaking, it does not signify a change in the law.