By implementing a written menopause policy at work, you can help to ensure that all staff feel fully supported by both management and co-workers during this potentially stressful and difficult phase — and that these individuals are treated fairly in the workplace, and with dignity and respect.
Traditionally, women going through the menopause have largely faced a lack of organisational support, awareness, sensitivity and inclusivity in the workplace.
But as gender-specific health and wellbeing needs are becoming a higher priority among employers, and following a number of employment tribunal decisions against employers, it has become increasingly important for organisations to ensure they are supporting peri- and postmenopausal women, not only to manage the legal risks but to ensure inclusivity and that affected parts of the workforce are not treated unfairly or discriminated against because of the menopause.
Guidance published in November 2022 for the NHS set a benchmark for standards of supporting workers through the menopause, with NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard calling on other employers to follow in its footsteps.
In this guide, we look at the importance of implementing a menopause policy, what the policy should contain and the support options you should offer your employees.
Why the menopause is a workplace priority
The menopause is a natural part of the ageing process that usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, as an individual’s oestrogen levels decline. It’s the time in a person’s life that marks the end of their menstrual cycles, and is often diagnosed after that individual has gone 12 months without having a period. Periods usually start to become less frequent over a few months or years before they stop altogether, although they can sometimes stop suddenly.
However, in the time leading up to the menopause, the individual may start to experience side effects. This is known as peri-menopause. Similarly, post-menopause, a person can continue to suffer ongoing effects. Throughout the three menopausal stages, a sufferer can present with a number of different and often debilitating physical or psychological symptoms, including:
- insomnia and night sweats
- hot flushes and dizziness
- palpitations and breathlessness
- irregular periods and heavy bleeding
- painful menstrual cramps
- weight gain and slowed metabolism
- thinning hair and menopausal hair loss
- skin irritation, dryness and itching
- dry eyes and discomfort
- vaginal dryness, itching and discomfort
- recurrent urinary tract infections
- joint and muscular aches and stiffness
- headaches and migraines
- low energy levels and fatigue
- low mood and irritability
- anxiety and panic attacks
- reduced concentration and memory loss
- increased emotional sensitivity and loss of confidence
Stages and symptoms of the menopause can vary from person to person, and range from very mild to severe, as can the length of time over which these symptoms are experienced. These symptoms can begin months or even years before an individual’s menstrual cycles stop, and persist for several years after their last period. The age at which someone can begin to experience menopausal symptoms can also vary, where a fraction of individuals go through the menopause before the age of 40. This is known as premature menopause.
Does your organisation need a menopause policy?
Having a menopause policy in place is not, as a matter of law, a mandatory requirement. However, by failing to support those staff who may be suffering from menopause-related symptoms, this can potentially give rise to a number of practical and legal risks.
From a practical point of view, a lack of adequate support for sufferers can lead to:
- poor employee engagement and low morale
- reduced performance and lost productivity
- high rates of sickness-related or even unauthorised absenteeism
- poor working relationships and conflict at work
- a damaged employer-employee relationship
- loss of valuable members of staff who feel forced to resign
From a legal point of view, where a lack of support has led to a forced resignation, this can potentially expose your business to a costly and time-consuming tribunal claim for constructive dismissal, based on breach of the implied duty of mutual trust and confidence.
All employers are under a statutory duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees at work, including an employee’s physical and emotional wellbeing. This includes providing adequate support to anyone going through the menopause, where any failure to provide such support can irreparably damage the employer-employee relationship, such that the contract of employment can treated by the employee as having been brought to an end.
Many sufferers are being driven from their jobs because they find that adapting their menopausal symptoms around inflexible work expectations is far too difficult, typically exacerbated by negative or discriminatory attitudes in the workplace. Sadly, there remains considerable ignorance and misunderstanding around the menopause and its effects, with it often being treated as an embarrassing or taboo subject, or even something to be ridiculed.
Employers should therefore be acutely aware that if a sufferer is harassed or bullied at work because of menopause-related symptoms, even if this is just innocent teasing or banter, this could amount to unlawful discrimination by reason of a protected characteristic, including age and sex. Further, if an employee is put at a disadvantage or treated less favourably at work because, for example, menopause-related absences mean they miss out on a promotion or training, this could again amount to unlawful discrimination by reason of gendered ageism.
In some cases, where menopausal symptoms are having a substantial and long-term negative effect on someone’s ability to do normal daily activities, the employee may be classed as a having a disability, giving rise to an additional risk of unlawful disability discrimination. A disability could be wholly caused by the menopause, or because menopausal symptoms are exacerbating an existing physical and/or psychological impairment. In either case, the employer will be under a separate statutory duty to make reasonable adjustments to reduce or remove any disadvantage experienced by a disabled employee because of this.
Is a separate menopause policy necessary?
Many organisations will already have a number of workplace policies in place, including policies around health and safety, sickness absence, flexible working and performance management. Employers should review these existing policies with the objective of making adjustments to take account of the menopause. For example, the sickness absence policy should reference that menopause-related absence is managed and recorded separately from other sickness absence to avoid unfairly triggering any performance reviews.
Given the breadth of issues and risks relating to the menopause at work, it has become best practice to create a standalone menopause policy.
A separate menopause policy will provide clarity for both management and employees, for example, by setting out key rights and responsibilities, and signposting staff to sources of support. This can help to inform individuals of what’s expected of them, and what they can expect in return, in the event that they’re going through the menopause.
Developing a policy also provides an ideal opportunity to help raise awareness, provide a platform for discussion and training, and create a shift in outdated attitudes around this serious but often overlooked work-related issue. In this way, development of a menopause policy can go a long way to help ensure that sufferers are not disadvantaged, or otherwise unlawfully discriminated against, and that valuable talent is not lost from the workforce.
In a nutshell, the menopause should not be dismissed as a ‘women’s issue’, or even a side issue, but expressly recognised as a legitimate occupational health and equality matter in its own right. A menopause policy will demonstrate a clear commitment to your employees that they will be treated fairly and in accordance with the law. This will also help to create an open and empathic organisational culture, in which the subject of menopause is normalised, and affected employees feel able to come forward if they’re struggling to cope at work.
How to write a menopause policy
While there is no prescribed, standard format for a menopause policy although, as a matter of best practice, the following sections will help to create a clear and effective policy document:
Statement of intent
You must clearly set out your commitment to ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of your employees and, in this context, specifically members of staff suffering from menopause-related symptoms. You could also acknowledge the menopause as an important occupational and equality issue, making clear that the policy is inclusive of all gender identities, including trans and non binary employees.
Aims of the policy
You must outline the purpose of the policy, including to help provide support to affected employees through guidance and direction; to raise awareness of the menopause amongst management and staff; to break the stigma and taboo surrounding this issue; and to create an environment where sufferers feel confident enough to raise issues about their symptoms and, where needed, to ask for adjustments at work.
It’s helpful to include a definition and brief explanation of what the menopause is and how it can affect individuals differently, with examples of the types of symptoms that can often be experienced.
You should outline the legislative provisions relating to both health and safety, and around equality, in the context of employees going through the menopause and how this can impact them at work. This should cover the meaning of discrimination, where someone is put at a disadvantage or treated less favourably at work because of a menopause-related protected characteristic, as well as examples of bullying or harassment.
Roles & responsibilities
This can refer to the individual sufferer, management and other members of staff. For example, any employee experiencing menopausal symptoms has a certain responsibility for their own health and wellbeing, and should be open to having conversations with line managers or any other appropriate person; equally, management should be open to discussions around the menopause and putting in place appropriate adjustments to support an affected employee; whilst other members of staff should be helping to create a positive and supportive working environment for anyone who may be going through the menopause and struggling to cope;
You should provide details of the different arrangements that you have in place for menopause sufferers, with examples of what potential adjustments can be made at work to support an affected employee. You should also set out a number of self-help options, such as diet, exercise or other healthy lifestyle choices, and signpost employees to various external organisations for those who feel too embarrassed to openly discuss the matter within the workplace;
Points of contact
These are people within your organisation with whom members of staff can discuss their support options. If at all possible, you should have a choice of people that a sufferer can approach, as this is a sensitive issue where an affected member of staff may not feel comfortable discussing the matter with, for example, their line manager, but may feel able to have a chat with a female member from the HR department. You may also be able to nominate menopause and wellbeing champions in the workplace to help raise awareness and tell staff where they can find more information.
The role of training
It’s important to remember that the key to any effective workplace policy is that it is clearly written and communicated. This means that the policy must be set out in easy-to-read terms, and be easily accessible, for example, in any employee handbook or on the staff intranet site.
Further, since line managers and HR are pivotal in bringing workplace policies to life, training is crucial to ensure that they have a clear understanding of the menopause policy, what support affected members of staff can be offered, with guidance on how to handle discussions about this issue.
The provision of training for management and HR personnel can also give staff more confidence to talk about the effects of the menopause, especially if they feel that their struggles will be taken seriously and the matter will be treated sensitively.
What support options should a menopause policy include?
There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to supporting an individual going through the menopause. Every menopause sufferer will have different symptoms, for different lengths of time, with varying degrees of severity. This means that whatever the approach in the workplace, there needs to be a range of options on offer.
You may wish to undertake a specific menopause-related risk assessment, especially having regard to any work-related stress that could be exacerbating an individual’s symptoms. A risk assessment should also take into account environmental factors, including the temperature and ventilation of the workplace; whether toilet facilities and cold drinking water are easily accessible; whether there’s somewhere suitable for staff to rest if needed; and the material and fit of any uniform. You can then use this assessment as a basis to discuss any adjustments that can be made to minimise and, where possible, remove any health and safety risks.
Where resources allow, you could also consider funding the cost of an occupational health assessment, where an independent specialist can recommend a range of workplace adjustments to help support an employee in the specific context of their job role.
However, there are various key ways in which an employee going through the menopause can be supported, including amended duties and reduced hours; other forms of flexible working arrangements, such as remote working; being able to take regular toilet or rest breaks; the provision of a quiet rest area; and, where applicable, a more relaxed dress code.
Once an open discussion has begun, it’s about reaching agreement with the individual sufferer as to what workplace adjustments might help, ensuring that they feel supported at all times and that any action plan is followed up with regular reviews.
Our HR and employment law specialists advise and guide employers on how to approach menopause in the workplace, including guidance on drafting and implementing a menopause policy. For specialist guidance, speak to our experts today.
Menopause policy FAQs
What is a menopause policy at work?
A menopause policy at work is a workplace policy setting out an organisation’s approach to female, trans and non-binary members of staff experiencing menopausal symptoms, and what support those employees can expect to receive during this time.
Can you get time off work for menopause?
If an employee has menopausal symptoms, provided they’re unfit for work because of this, they should be allowed time off. The menopause can cause various significant physical and/or psychological symptoms that can affect a sufferer’s ability to work.
Last updated: 24 November 2022