Menopause: a health and safety issue…
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees, conducting risk assessments which should include any specific risks to menopausal women.
In essence, it is the primary piece of legislation covering occupational health and safety in the UK. It’s sometimes referred to as HSWA, the HSW Act, the 1974 Act or HASAWA. In general this includes duties which:
- employers have towards employees and members of the public
- employees have to themselves and to each other
Under health and safety law, employers must also provide enough information, instruction, training and supervision to enable their employees to carry out their work safely.
Employees also have a duty to take care for health and safety too and employers need to ensure their employees meet their legal requirements.
How menopause can affect work
The massive thing is this is not a minority issue. According to Professor Jo Brewis, co-author Government Report on Menopause, ‘menopausal women are the fastest growing workforce demographic’, which is highlighted by the Office of National Statistics. This is simply going to continue to grow.
Menopause symptoms are wide ranging, both physical and psychological, and can start during what’s known as the perimenopause, which typically is in a woman’s 40s.
Survey after survey highlights just how many women have said that their menopause had a detrimental affect on work. This includes the Wales TUC survey which highlighted that of those women with direct experience of the menopause, almost 9 out of 10 felt that it had an effect on working life. Many reported that poorly adapted workplace environments and practices made symptoms worse.
The results from CIPD’s survey in 2018 was lower at 6 in 10 menopausal women saying their symptoms have had a negative impact on their work. Both big numbers.
Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR)
Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers have a duty to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the workplace risks to the health and safety of their employees. This includes identifying groups of workers who might be particularly at risk. This includes menopausal women and we’d take it further to include those who are affected by their partner’s menopause.
We often quote the Equality Act 2010 too. Menopause can come under 3 of the 9 protected characteristics – age, sex and even disability discrimination. We’ve covered the tribunals lost by employers on many occasions before, the latest one that caught the eye of the media was A vs. Bonmarche Ltd (2019).
But what do you need to do?
There’s a general lack of factual knowledge about menopause, not just in workplaces but in society in general. Menopausal symptoms and their effects are easy to miss or be misunderstood.
We run menopause training sessions all the time. Employees often come to our training sessions because they believe menopause is on the horizon. Shortly into the session they often recognise the symptoms and realise they’re already in it.
Similarly, one of my experiences at a training operating company highlighted how partners can be affected. A man explained that as part of their operations, he had to sign to say that he was fit and well before he could drive a train. (Reassuring to me as a regular train traveller). But he explained that the symptoms his wife was experiencing, including flushes and difficulty sleeping, meant that for some shifts he slept on the sofa because he couldn’t sign the health and safety form honestly. Her menopause was keeping him awake at night – they were both affected.
Line managers frequently tell us that they simply don’t understand enough about menopause, its symptoms or what to look out for to be clear about how to support an employee struggling with it or what would actually help. Let alone what their responsibility is.
The best practice areas for your menopause in the workplace action plan
- Encouraging an environment of openness and transparency where everyone can talk about menopause.
- Raising awareness, understanding and education of the menopause.
- Creating accessible, well-publicised policy or guidance documents for colleagues and line managers.
- Ensuring employees feel comfortable talking to their line managers, and in turn that managers feel confident to have supportive conversations with employees. And both have access to occupational health if needed.
- Offering appropriate reasonable adjustments and support, bearing in mind that all women experience menopause differently. Many organisations also create risk assessments to help understand the risks and solutions, particularly where the environment or work is potentially dangerous.
- Giving consideration to menopause-related symptoms in the workplace environment e.g. facilities and uniforms.
- Approaching formal processes on the assumption that the employee is disabled, to help you deal with issues in a fair and reasonable way.
Not all organisations decide to put risk assessments in place, it depends on the in the workplace and for the employees roles. Many train much more on providing suitable reasonable adjustments that help. Where they do, they should consider the specific needs to minimise risks and help employees be at their best.
Is your organisation menopause friendly?
- What is your organisation doing to support colleagues through menopause?
- How much do your line managers know and what do they do?
Now is the time for taking action. We can help you with every aspect of menopause in the workplace support – please do get in touch to find out how.
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