Vicky Kitney, from the MDU's HR partners Peninsula, outlines the basic need-to-knows of having a practice policy to support staff affected by menopause.

The menopause is likely to affect all UK workforces in some way throughout the employment lifecycle. But until recently, there has been limited awareness of the difficulties employees face and limited support in place for those suffering with menopausal systems. As a result, almost 900,000 women felt forced to leave their jobs, with research showing that three in five menopausal women were negatively affected at work.

At a time when women should be reaching the peak point in their careers and becoming eligible for senior management positions, they are instead sometimes being confined to less-deserving roles because of inadequate workplace support. This lack of assistance not only negatively impacts employees, but can detrimentally affect business operations due to reduced productivity, high turnover, low internal growth opportunities and gender pay disparity.

As such, organisations should ensure they have a menopause policy in place and communicate this so staff know of the support available to them. This is particularly important when taking into consideration a survey by BetterUp, an employee-focused platform for coaching and mental health, which found 51% of employers didn't have a menopause policy.

Of those who did have some support in place, only 23% of respondents said it was adequate. An overwhelming 86% said they would be more likely to work at a company if they had support in place for female health issues.

Producing a policy

So what should be included in a menopause policy? First, it should set out the scope of the policy and your commitment to ensuring the health and wellbeing for all. You should acknowledge menopause as an important workplace and equality issue and make clear that the policy is inclusive of all gender identities, including trans and non-binary staff.

Next, outline the aim and purpose of the policy - for example, to help provide support and guidance to affected employees, to raise awareness and break the stigma and taboo, and to create a culture where those affected feel confident to talk about their symptoms and ask for adjustments. You should also outline who affected staff members can speak with, like menopause ambassadors/champions, line managers or mental health first aiders, and how they can do so.

It can be useful to set out the role and responsibilities of both the employer and employee in this situation. This includes the job of those who are not directly impacted by the menopause (such as other colleagues) so they know how to offer support, empathy and compassion.

From there, the policy should outline what support will be available (more on this below), set out what leave, if any, employees are able to take, and what the pay arrangements for this will be. If time off must be taken as sick leave, the absence management policy should also be reviewed and amended where necessary, clarifying that related absences will be discounted from trigger points for further action.

Finally, it should signpost to internal and external resources where staff can get more guidance, such as an employee assistance programme (EAP), or a government or charity website.

Menopause has the potential to be classed as a disability under the Equality Act (2010) if it has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Flexible working

Adopting an accommodating attitude to flexible working arrangements allows employees suffering with menopause symptoms to feel confident and comfortable in the workplace. On days where they experience a flare-up of symptoms, allowing homeworking means an employee can maintain normal output and avoid a loss in pay while working in conditions that alleviate pain and discomfort.

Not only does this benefit the employee, but employers can also reap the rewards of not having to find last-minute cover or face wider problems associated with long-term absences. Some roles won't be suitable for home working, but if any are, factor this into your plans.

Other useful flexible working arrangements include hybrid working, changes to working hours and providing lighter duties. Employers should be mindful of menopausal employees when creating and reviewing their flexible working policy.

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Reasonable adjustments

Menopause has the potential to be classed as a disability under the Equality Act (2010) if it has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. As such, employers have a legal duty to consider reasonable adjustments to support all employees, and could face claims of disability discrimination if they don't.

Some recommended reasonable adjustments include reducing workloads, providing a working space close to fans, air conditioning, windows or doors and away from heaters, allowing extra or longer rest breaks, adapting dress codes, giving time off for medical appointments, including when these are last-minute, and adjusting absence trigger points. Holding regular welfare meetings with individual employees is the best way to identify what support measures would be the most effective.

We know that looking after patients will be your top priority. But if you manage or own a practice or business, looking after your staff will be just as important.

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This page was correct at publication on 10/07/2023. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.