Supporting staff experiencing the menopause or period pain can be done using many existing equality provisions. Doing so will help create a more inclusive working environment, argues HR expert Kate Palmer.
According to research from the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development, three out of five (59%) working women between the ages of 45 and 55 who are experiencing menopause symptoms say it has a negative impact on them at work.
Even though the menopause affects many female employers, employers still find it difficult to address the issues of menopause and period pain at work, either due to a lack of understanding or a general feeling of awkwardness. However, to provide the appropriate support it is important that employers take a proactive approach.
Dealing with menopause or period pains can be an extremely uncomfortable experience for female employees, yet there is a sense that many individuals opt to ‘suffer in silence’ rather than inform their employers. To counteract this, employers should look to cultivate an inclusive and stigma-free culture by introducing a specific workplace policy that clarifies the rights on offer to affected individuals. It could also be beneficial to introduce a designated welfare officer who staff may feel more comfortable approaching in these situations.
BBC news presenter Emma Barnet has recently discussed the topic of period leave for female staff and whilst there is no specific requirement to provide leave in this situation, some employers choose to offer this voluntarily. Having said this, the symptoms associated with period pain or the menopause can cause an individual to be unfit for work under existing sick leave policies and employers should be accepting of this.
Although they are not protected characteristics themselves under the Equality Act 2010, it should be noted that both the menopause and period pain could be linked to the characteristics of age and gender. There is also specific case law which suggests menopause could qualify as a disability if the side effects have a substantial and long-term adverse effect on an individual’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities. As such, individuals must not be subjected to any unfavourable treatment, which includes harassment or dismissal, as a result of these conditions. Therefore, employers should keep a close eye on workplace ‘banter’ and ensure any alleged incidents of bullying or harassment are investigated fully.
If an employee discloses that they are having difficulties as a result of the symptoms associated with the menopause or period pain, reasonable steps should be taken to assist and improve their daily working activities. Employers need to remember that every employee’s needs must be addressed sensitively and that confidentiality should be maintained as much as possible.
To make staff more comfortable at work employers should look to reposition employees to ensure easy access to toilet facilities and, if necessary, allow them to use facilities that are separate from their colleagues. The requirement to wear certain uniform items may also exacerbate any discomfort and affected staff should be given the flexibility to wear suitable alternatives where possible.
Allowing staff to work from home on an ad-hoc basis is another way employers could support those suffering from the symptoms of menopause or period pain. This may not be possible in smaller businesses with limited resources. Therefore these employers may consider re-distributing any strenuous workplace duties and allowing additional rest breaks to combat fatigue.
In summary, employers will need to incorporate a multi-faceted approach to properly support staff experiencing the menopause or period pain. For most organisations, it will simply be a case of extending many of the existing provisions on offer to those individuals affected by these issues and doing so will help create a more inclusive working environment.