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Menopause: where legislation fails employers can step in

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For years, menopause has been one of those subjects people shy away from in spite of it being a biological fact. This is particularly true in the workplace: although some employees experience psychological effects or physiological symptoms which can be truly debilitating, there remains a distinct lack of dedicated support.

I believe more employers should take steps to introduce menopause policies to acknowledge the effects menopause can have. Such a policy could potentially include access to flexible working as well as support services such as counselling or career advice. 

Introducing this kind of additional support would have business benefits in areas including retention, dignity in the workplace, and mental health.


Ideas for what to include in menopause policy:

My experience of working with the menopause

Five steps to improve menopause support

Is flexible working for menopausal women a step too far?


Of course, not everyone is affected by menopause in the same way, so some employers are simply unsure of the most appropriate way to provide support without stigmatising female employees by introducing any kind of blanket policy. Some employers may even be concerned about appearing to be discriminating against women. 

On the other hand, it could be argued that failing to acknowledge menopause at all is a form of age and gender discrimination. 

While we cannot legislate for every possible change people may go through in their lives, we do know roughly half the working population will experience menopause at some point. Therefore, it’s important for workplaces to create an environment where employees can have an open dialogue on the subject. 

Several women’s advocacy groups are promoting better understanding of this subject, while some organisations have already started to introduce menopause policies, but there is still a long way to go. 

It is essential that any such policy does not patronise or alienate employees. It must empower the workforce and let workers know they have options.

My first piece of advice to any employer considering this type of policy would be to talk to your employees. Engage with them in an open dialogue to find out what kind of policy they’d welcome, any challenges they foresee, and any first-hand experience they have of dealing with this issue in the workplace. 

Employers have the opportunity to be forward thinking and lead the way here. Even if the law doesn’t specifically recognise menopause in the workplace yet, as an employer, you can take steps to do so.

 

Liam Entwistle is employment solicitor and chairman at Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie

 

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