ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) is an organisation which provides advice to employers and employees. Its latest guidance offers advice for employers on supporting those going through the menopause at work.
The menopause is a natural stage of life for women, usually in their late forties/early fifties. For many women symptoms last about four years, but in some cases can last longer – up to 12 years. Part of the process is the ‘perimenopause’ when a woman’s body is starting to change in the build up to the menopause – this is not the same as an early menopause.
A trans man – someone who proposes to go through, is going through or has gone through a process, or part of a process to change their gender from female to male – may go through perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms.
Those symptoms can vary from person to person and range from very mild to severe. As well as the oft-mocked ‘hot flushes’, they can include sleep difficulties, fatigue, mood swings, anxiety, difficulties with memory and concentration, and taking longer to recover from illness, amongst others.
What are the effects of menopause at work?
Employers should be aware that, without proper support, the effects of menopause can lead to workers feeling ill, losing confidence, suffering mental health conditions, and even leaving their jobs. The ACAS guidance reminds us that menopausal issues, if not handled correctly, can lead to complaints of discrimination or harassment on grounds of gender, disability or age, and could also have health and safety implications.
Many workers will feel reticent about sharing the issue with their employer. Ways of countering this understandable reluctance could include having a menopause or wellbeing champion in your workplace, training managers on how to handle such issues with dignity and sensitivity, and developing a written policy for the organisation.
How does ACAS recommend employers support workers going through menopause?
Once you are aware of an issue, ACAS recommends that health and safety risk assessments should take into account menopause factors such as heating and ventilation, uniform fabrics, availability of drinking water, rest areas and toilets. Sickness absence also needs to be carefully managed in order to avoid allegations of discrimination.
If a constructive and sensitive conversation can take place (whether with the line manager or someone else in the organisation), then steps can be taken towards agreeing changes at work to help the worker manage their symptoms when doing their job. These changes could be as simple as providing a fan, allowing breaks when needed, or moving a desk nearer to an opening window.
How can employers access more advice?
It is worth reading the detailed guidance in full. If you need help with developing a policy, training managers or managing a difficult workplace situation, please get in touch with our specialist employment lawyers.
Matthew Clayton leads Willans’ employment law and business immigration team. He has over 20 years’ experience in the employment law field and helps multi-national companies, SMEs, owner-managed businesses, not-for-profit organisations with a wide range of employee situations.