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The EHRC menopause guidance is a positive move for women

The guidance outlines in plain speak the legal recognition that menopause symptoms have

As we approach another International Women’s Day, it’s a good time to revisit the issues that matter to women in the workplace, including menopause.

While women’s experiences of managing the menopause, and the impact on their career, has been discussed at length, until the new guidance issued by The Equality and Human Right’s Commission (EHRC) recently, solid commitment to policy change has been scant. 

The new EHRC advice provides guidance for employers in supporting women experiencing menopause symptoms at work. But what does this mean for business, and what do companies need to know? 

We all know that women are afforded rights and protections when they’re pregnant, on maternity leave and when returning to work. However, while not all women choose to become parents, menopause is a shared experience which every woman will eventually traverse.

Employers have more menopause support than they realise

The tricky thing about the menopause is that there’s no way of knowing when it will affect a person, or what their symptoms (and the extent of those symptoms) might be. Plus, given the many misconceptions around menopause, it’s unsurprising that employers often find the subject difficult to navigate.

This was well illustrated in a recent employment tribunal (Best v Embark on Raw Ltd) which saw the complainant succeed in her claim for harassment on the grounds of sex and age when she was subjected to jibes about her menopausal symptoms, which also included speculation that her husband would start to look "at other younger women now".  

However, given that there are already some protections in place for women experiencing menopause, employers might be forgiven for questioning why this new guidance is needed at all. 

Is there light at the end of the tunnel for menopausal women?

In answer to that, there’s still some way to go to educate employers about the role they should play in supporting women experiencing menopause, while creating a positive, open culture in the workplace. 

This latest EHRC guidance is important because it outlines in plain speak the legal recognition menopause symptoms have, not only in relation to sex and age but also disability.  

The added protections of menopause symptoms falling under the definition of disability means that employers have legal obligations under the Equality Act to provide support through reasonable adjustments. Often, when it comes to making adjustments for menopause symptoms, these duties can often be met with fairly minor tweaks to the working environment, such as providing electric fans, relaxing any uniform policies and not penalising women for menopause-related sickness absences.

Menopause at work: what's the employer's responsibility?

The guidance also explains the difference between perimenopause and menopause, and sets out how menopause symptoms can impact women at work. It also covers the bit many employers dread: how to have conversations about menopause. This is very important because, as we’ve seen with the drive to improve attitudes towards mental health, an improved attitude and awareness regarding menopause also starts with education and it’s impossible to educate without effective communication.  

Employers should familiarise themselves with this latest guidance, and act now to not only avoid potentially costly legal claims but as a crucial first step to a greater understanding of a spectrum of symptoms which affect half the population, and the responsibilities they hold as an employer.  

Lack of awareness is no longer a credible excuse for ignorance. Businesses that fail to understand and apply the guidance on menopause could not only find themselves hit financially, following a legal challenge, but could also fail to attract talented females who choose to build their career elsewhere, in a more understanding and empathetic environment. 

By Chris Garner, managing director at HR and employment law specialist, Avensure