Until recently, there has been limited awareness of the difficulties employees face and a lack of support available for those suffering with menopausal systems. However, awareness has improved thanks to a number of high-profile campaigns.
This is much needed, as research has shown that 10% of women leave their jobs and many more are reducing their hours or passing up promotions because of their menopausal symptoms. Meanwhile, figures released by the Office for National Statistics show that the employment rate for women aged 50 to 64 has increased from 47% in 1992 to 66% in 2023. There are, therefore, more people than ever experiencing the symptoms of menopause in the workplace, so employers need to ensure they appropriately support their employees.
Here we examine the types of calls raised by primary care teams to the helpline provided by Peninsula, the MDU's HR partner, and look at how practices can better support their staff.
Types of queries
Peninsula provides a helpline to the MDU's GROUPCARE practices and corporate members, and from 1 June 2023 to 31 August 2023 received a total of 466 calls and emails requesting advice on a range of HR matters. When calls are received from GPs and practice managers about employees relating to the menopause, they centre on queries around support and performance management. Typical examples include:
- What reasonable adjustments should we make to accommodate an employee who has menopause symptoms such as hot flushes?
- How can we support a colleague whose menopause symptoms are affecting their performance such as forgetfulness or mood changes?
While menopause is not a protected characteristic, an employment tribunal could find that the effect of the menopause on an employee satisfies the definition of a disability under the Equality Act 2010. Where this applies, employers then have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments to premises or to working practices.
Regardless of any legal obligation, an open and inclusive environment where employees feel they can raise concerns about how the menopause is affecting them - with no stigma or embarrassment attached - is probably the most straightforward approach to becoming a menopause friendly employer.
Having a menopause policy in place and communicating what support is available can help to retain staff affected by the menopause. This is in line with NHS England's Long Term Workforce Plan, which emphasises the need to retain valued employees by encouraging them to stay in the workplace.
What support and adjustments an employee specifically needs will depend on the individual themselves. Menopause, and perimenopause, affect everyone in different ways so designing some support that is individual for the employee is advisable. Employers should therefore discuss circumstances on an individual basis with their employee and consider what adjustments can be made to the workplace. These could include ensuring that there is fresh air or temperature-controlled spaces, comfortable desk seating, a private room or space with less distractions.
These, however, are not the only types of adjustments to consider. Where an employee is under performing and it could be linked to symptoms of the menopause, a reasonable adjustment could be to not take the employee through a performance management process. Instead, look at ways support could be given.
Lessons from employment tribunals
A recent employment tribunal case, Lynskey v Direct Line, illustrates these points. A claimant was subject to a disciplinary process because of alleged poor performance, and this also led to her being refused a pay rise. There was, however, a clear link with the claimant's menopause symptoms, which included 'brain fog', concentration issues and memory problems.
The tribunal found that there was no consideration of the impact that the menopause was having on her performance and no adjustments were made to support her in the workplace. The claimant was successful in her claim for failure to make reasonable adjustments and was awarded £65,000.
Training managers on how to handle such matters sensitively can also be a good step to take. Having a menopause champion within the organisation might also be a way to promote an inclusive environment. In addition, a menopause policy could be key to demonstrate to your employees that you are prepared to offer them support which is individual to their specific needs. There is more information in the MDU journal on what to consider when producing a policy.
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. MDU GROUPCARE practices and corporate members get access to free 24-hour employment law advice line from Peninsula, a leading provider of employment law and health and safety services in the UK.
Vicky Kitney, lead business partner at Peninsula
This page was correct at publication on 03/10/2023. 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.