PROSPER MAGAZINE: ISSUE 02 | LEGAL ROUND ROBIN
NEW GUIDANCE ON MENOPAUSE WELCOMED BY THURSFIELDS
Now women over the age of 50 are the fastest-growing cohort of employees Lauren Cope, a solicitor in the Employment team at Thursfields’, welcomes new guidance on menopause from workplace expert Acas.
The online document offers guidance to employers and managers on how to support staff affected by menopause symptoms, along with tips for workers on how to raise concerns.
Statistics estimate that around two million women have experienced difficulties at work due to their menopause symptoms.
Some of the lesser-known symptoms of the menopause (which can occur even at the pre-menopausal stage) include anxiety and panic attacks, skin irritation, dry eyes and difficulty sleeping.
Such symptoms can mean women have difficulty concentrating, sometimes resulting in poor performance at work. Although this is clearly a concern for employers, it is crucial that such issues are handled carefully and that employers seek to support staff in the first instance.
The key points in the advice for employers include the following:
Create an open and trusted culture among staff.
Provide awareness training for managers to deal with concerns sensitively and to handle any difficult conversations.
Consider practical assistance, such as altering working hours or providing equipment, such as desk fans.
Carefully manage sickness absence or a dip in job performance.
Examples are also provided as to how employers should deal with staff going through the menopause, with particular attention drawn to managing sickness absence.
Many staff may feel embarrassed to raise symptoms with their employer. By creating an environment where staff feel comfortable and able to discuss such issues, employers are able to get to the root of the problem and ensure that their staff continue to work effectively.
This is particularly important as menopause symptoms have been accepted to be a disability by the employment tribunal. In Merchant vs BT (2012) for example, a female employee was experiencing stress and poor concentration as a result of the menopause.
The employer was found to have failed to consider the impact of the menopause when a manager reviewed the employee’s performance and she was dismissed. The tribunal upheld the employee’s claim on the basis that the manager would not have approached a non-female-related condition in the same way.
The Merchant vs BT case is a useful reminder to employers that there is a risk of a discrimination claim if a sickness is poorly dealt with by an employer. By seeking to understand and support staff going through the menopause, employers can help reduce such risk.
Another case law has also repeatedly shown that employers should take medical information into account in capability situations where ill-health has been raised by the employee. This will usually involve an employer seeking advice from the employee’s GP or occupational health practitioners.
The menopause is a natural occurrence and by helping staff to deal with this in the workplace employers will only increase work rates, quality and loyalty.
Aside from the positive human outcome, employers should take the issue seriously as there are laws that can be used to protect anyone who feels they are not being treated properly at work as a result.
Many employers are now including a menopause policy in their staff handbooks.