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Employers’ legal obligations to support menopausal women at work

Last month, important new guidance was released by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) highlighting both the impact that menopausal symptoms have on workers affected by the menopause and the adjustments employers are legally obliged to consider.

The menopause is a natural stage of life which affects most women and other people who have a menstrual cycle. This can include:

  • transgender people – ‘transgender’ is an umbrella term used to describe people whose gender is not the same as the sex they were assigned at birth
  • people with ‘variations of sex development’ (VSD).

A recent study performed on over 2000 women in employment between the ages of 40 to 60 by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), found that menopausal symptoms have had a negative effect on the work of two thirds of these women and more than half of those affected have consequentially experienced a time they could not go to work. The importance of a supportive workplace to retain employees is further stressed by the CIPD who reported that one in six of the women in the study had thought about leaving work due to poor support and that 10% feel their menopausal symptoms are leaving them feeling discriminated against.

The Law

The Equality Act 2010 protects workers from discrimination, harassment and victimisation based on the protected characteristics of disability, age, gender reassignment and sex. The symptoms of menopause, which can be physical and psychological, including mood disturbances, anxiety, loss of confidence, heavy periods, brain fog, hot flushes and more, may amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010 if they have a ‘long term and substantial impact on the ability of the individual to carry out normal day-today activities’. If this is the case, employers will be legally obliged to consider reasonable adjustments and to not discriminate.

Expansion of definition of Disability

The Government’s recent legislation to ‘save’ some of the relevant EU case law post Brexit has recently confirmed that the EU law case law which interprets ‘day to day activities’ to include ‘impairments which hinder full and effective participation in professional life on an equal basis as other workers’ will continue to apply when deciding if someone is disabled or not under the Equality Act 2010.  This is a subtle but important distinction because it makes the definition wider than just whether or not the impairment has an impact on what was commonly considered to be ‘day to day activities’ like walking, talking, concentrating, sleeping etc and can include some element of an activity connected to working.

So, what should Employers do?

Employers should make sure they have steps, procedures and support in place to help staff affected by the menopause. This should include the following:

  • Create a culture that is supportive, encouraging and educated about the menopause but treat all health conditions confidentially.
  • Conduct a risk assessment that considers the specific needs of those with menopausal symptoms and ensures the workplace will not make these worse. Areas for attention could include temperature and ventilation, access to toilet facilities, access to cold water, provision of a fan, flexible working and a relaxed clothing policy.

Occupational Health can be helpful as part of the wider health and wellbeing strategy. A sign of a healthy organisation is demonstrated with the skill of managers knowing when to involve occupational health in the health and wellbeing management of employees. Lincoln Occupational Health is well placed to discuss support and help identify specific and appropriate work adjustments through their management referral service.

And finally…

It is important to be aware that the menopause is a natural and temporary stage in women’s (and other people affected by the menopause) lives and that not all will experience significant symptoms. The menopause has been regarded as a taboo subject but this is rapidly changing as employers gradually acknowledge the potential impact of the menopause on its workers and become aware of the simple steps they can take to be supportive.

Some useful links for education and signposting:

For more information and advice on supporting your employees, please do get in touch via