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What is menopause?

Menopause occurs when someone stops having menstrual cycles and can no longer get pregnant naturally. It is a natural stage of life which affects most people with menstrual cycles (eg women or transgender people) and symptoms generally last for around 4 years. While menopause usually starts between the ages of 45 and 55, it can happen earlier or later.

Menopause and the Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 protects staff against workplace discrimination harassment and victimisation. It sets out certain ‘protected characteristics’, including disability, age, sex and gender reassignment.

Menopause is not one of the protected characteristics. However, if a member of staff is put at a disadvantage and treated less favourably because of their menopause symptom, this may amount to discrimination if it is related to one of the protected characteristics. For more information, read Equal opportunities and discrimination.

Is menopause a disability?

The law defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the ability of a staff member to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Menopause has various physical and psychological symptoms that can last for several years, including:

  • anxiety

  • depression

  • memory loss

  • problems with concentration

As a result, menopause may be considered a disability if its symptoms have a long-term adverse effect on the ability of a staff member to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

If someone has a disability, employers must make reasonable adjustments in the workplace to remove or reduce any disadvantage the staff member may have. For example, recording absences due to menopause differently to sickness absences or allowing staff members to change their working patterns. 

If staff members affected by a disability are treated less favourably and put at a disadvantage because of their disability, this is disability discrimination.

For more information, read Disability and reasonable adjustments.

Menopause and age discrimination

As with disabilities, staff members are protected from being treated less favourably or put at a disadvantage because of their age. As menopause typically affects those between the ages of 45 and 55, any less favourable treatment because of menopause may result in age discrimination.

However, employers should bear in mind that people may go through menopause at any age (eg if they go through medical menopause or early menopause). Care must be taken to prevent any form of age discrimination relating to menopause (eg staff making fun of a young colleague for going through early menopause).

Menopause and sex discrimination

Any unfair treatment because of a staff member’s sex may lead to a claim for sex discrimination. Examples of sex discrimination related to menopause include:

  • any unwanted behaviour relating to someone's menopause symptoms, such as jokes about being in a ‘menopausal state’

  • an employer taking a woman’s menopausal symptoms less seriously than a man’s health condition with similar symptoms when considering staff performance

Menopause and gender reassignment

Staff members are protected from being put at a disadvantage or treated less favourably because of planning to go through, going through or having gone through the process of reassigning their gender. Employers need to bear in mind that transgender men may be affected by menopause. 

If a transgender man affected by menopause is subject to less favourable treatment than a woman going through menopause, this may give rise to a claim for discrimination based on gender reassignment.

Menopause and health and safety

Employers have a general legal duty to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of staff. This includes regularly carrying out a risk assessment to determine workplace health and safety risks and how to minimise or reduce them. When carrying out risk assessments, employers should consider all staff including those affected by menopause. Specifically, employers should ensure:

  • menopause symptoms are not worsened by the workplace or work practices

  • that the workplace is appropriate for staff affected by menopause (eg by making changes enabling staff to manage their symptoms while working)

Menopause-related considerations a risk assessment may cover, include:

  • the fit and/or material of workplace uniforms and whether these may be too hot or cause discomfort to staff going through the menopause

  • workplace temperature and ventilation

  • available break rooms that staff can rest in

  • any manager training on menopause-related health and safety issues

For more information, read Health and safety and Employer health and safety responsibilities for staff working from home.

How to support staff going through menopause

Employers can take several steps to support staff affected by menopause.

Open communication

To help support staff going through menopause, employers should consider having regular conversations with their staff. This can help understand staff members’ needs and provide the support they need to work effectively. 

Staff members should be given the opportunity to speak with someone they are comfortable with. Spending on the circumstances, this may be:

  • their manager or supervisor

  • a member of the HR department

  • a trade union representative

  • the employer’s menopause or wellbeing champion (more below)

Workplace training

Employers should provide workplace training to managers, supervisors and team leaders to ensure they understand:

  • the laws around menopause how menopause may affect staff

  • how to talk to staff about menopause (including how to deal with menopause-related issues sensitively and family)

  • what workplace support is available (including that changes can be made)

Providing such training can help encourage open communication between employers and staff and can foster a positive work environment.

Workplace flexibility

Employers should consider the staff member’s particular role and responsibilities and how these may be made more difficult by menopause symptoms. This is especially important if staff:

  • work long shifts

  • their position doesn’t have much flexibility

  • cannot take regular bathroom breaks

Not only should such factors be considered in a workplace risk assessment, but employers should also consider them when providing greater workplace flexibility. Employers should speak to affected staff members and try to make possible changes to the workplace. For example:

  • allowing staff to work from home

  • allowing greater flexibility around working hours (eg starting and finishing work at different times, or taking rest breaks, to help manage symptoms)

  • changing certain job-related duties and responsibilities

Having a Flexible working policy in place can help staff understand their flexible working rights and make Flexible working requests.

When assessing a staff member’s performance, employers should also make sure to consider any performance issues that may have been caused by menopause symptoms.

Managing menopause-related absences

Any menopause-related absences should be handled sensitively and fairly. Generally, menopause-related absences should be recorded separately from other types of absences. Recording menopause-related absences in a staff member’s overall attendance record may, in some cases, be considered unfair or discriminatory.

While there is no right for staff to have time off to attend menopause-related medical appointments, employers should allow staff to attend such appointments. Depending on what is written in their Employment contract or relevant workplace policies, such time off may be paid or unpaid.

Creating and updating HR policies

To ensure their processes and procedures cover menopause-related issues, employers should review and update existing HR policies, including any:

Employers can consider creating a specific workplace Menopause policy to:

  • facilitate open communication

  • inform all staff about what the menopause is and its effects

  • support affected staff, by setting out what support is available

Having a wellbeing or menopause champion

A wellbeing or menopause champion is a member of staff who is confident in speaking about menopause and can help support affected staff members. Having a menopause champion can help provide:

  • advice to affected staff

  • general menopause-related information to the business (eg through awareness workshops)

  • a point of contact to staff who aren’t comfortable speaking to their manager

  • a workplace support network

  • advice on menopause-related aspects of workplace risk assessments

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