Latest: What are the legal rights for women going through menopause?

If employers do not make “reasonable adjustments” for women going through menopause at work, they could be sued, the equalities watchdog has suggested.

Guidance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been issued to bosses to clarify their legal obligations to women going through the menopause.

Hot flushes, brain fog and difficulty sleeping – all symptoms of the menopause – can be considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010 if they have a “long-term and substantial impact” on a woman’s ability to carry out their usual day-to-day activities, according to the EHRC.

“The commissioners who have produced this report aren’t recommending any changes to the Equality Act 2010 – it’s what underpins all of this – if you are discriminated against as a menopausal woman, there are existing laws you can use to take employers to a tribunal and take action against them,” said Health Minister Maria Caulfield during an interview on Good Morning Britain on Thursday.

The guidance from the EHRC also said that workplaces should think about how room temperature and ventilation can affect their menopausal employees, and recommended providing safe and quiet rooms, cooling systems or fans for when women experience hot flushes, for instance.

It added that employers could also offer more hybrid working and adjusting start and finish times to accommodate a woman who may have had a bad night’s sleep or when the weather is too warm.

These adjustments could also include relaxing uniform policies or allowing menopausal women to wear cooler clothes made from alternative materials.

“What we are trying to do – I’m chair of the menopause taskforce – is change the workplace culture, because we are losing one in 10 women who are menopausal, and these are our most experienced women. And when you talk to the vast majority of employers, they want to keep women in the workplace, they just don’t know how to,” said Caulfield.

So what are the legal rights of women going through menopause at work? Experts share everything you need to know.

What are the symptoms of menopause?

According to Dr Louise Newson, a GP and menopause specialist, symptoms vary from woman to woman. Some people have no symptoms, whilst a vast majority of women do.

“The main menopausal symptoms affecting women in the workplace are memory loss, anxiety and fatigue. We know that in general, patients mainly have to deal with symptoms that affect their brains,” said Newson.

“There’s also poor sleep, reduced concentration, being unable to multitask, mind fog and joint pains. Itchy and dry skin, headaches, migraines, just to name a few. So it doesn’t take much to understand why more support is needed.”

What rights do women have?

“As defined by the Equality Act 2010, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ adverse effect on your ability to do normal daily activities, which has lasted, or in medical opinion is likely to last, at least 12 months,” said Sarah Tahamtani, partner and head of employment at national law firm, Clarion.

“Those with disabilities are protected in a variety of ways legally. For example, employers must avoid unjustified unfavourable treatment due to something arising from a disability, as well as take positive steps to make reasonable adjustments for those who suffer a substantial disadvantage due to a disability.”

How can employers better support their employees?

Tahamtani believes it’s good practice for HR teams to consider the impact that the symptoms may be having on an individual woman.

In some cases, HR professionals should also consider early input from medical experts to support them.

“Workplaces should also put specific and robust internal policies in place to ensure that those going through the menopause are fully supported. When creating the policy, consider how you’re defining menopause and highlight common symptoms,” she says.

“On top of this, thought should also be given to the impact of seemingly neutral policies and, if needed, reassessing them to ensure they are inclusive.”

“Beyond that, you could consider what reasonable adjustments can be made, including more flexibility in both when and where people can work and job requirements, as well as providing equipment, tailored uniforms and temperature control if required.”

Tahamtani points out that while policies are essential, it’s also vital to create an honest and open culture where women feel comfortable enough to approach colleagues and HR staff with their concerns about menopause symptoms.

“Feedback sessions, implementing peer-to-peer networks and tailored training for managers on the topic are all key to this,” she said.

“Implementing a training and education piece across the organisation is crucial as line managers should understand common symptoms and the impact they may have on employees, as well as how these challenges can be addressed sensitively.

“While some women will still prefer not to discuss the menopause or their symptoms, organisations must still make the workplace a safe space for those going through it.

“Taking these steps not only fosters an open and honest culture for employees, but also contributes to protecting the businesses from complaints.”

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