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New Acas guidance on menopause at work – changing attitudes?

  • United Kingdom
  • Employment law

22-10-2019

To mark World Menopause Day on 18 October, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) published guidance to help employers and managers support staff who are affected by the menopause at work. The guidance includes an overview of the most common menopausal symptoms and their potential workplace impact, setting out how an employer and worker can work together to find solutions. Publication of this guidance reflects an increasing focus by many employers on workplace wellbeing and inclusivity initiatives.

Background

As Acas notes, the menopause is “a natural stage of life” which is generally experienced by women in their late forties/early fifties. But menopausal symptoms can vary widely in their nature, severity and duration which means women are likely to be affected in very different ways. While some women are fortunate to “sail through” the menopause, others will experience debilitating symptoms such as sleep disturbance, heart palpitations and joint pain which can typically last for around four years, but sometimes for much longer.

There are around 4.4 million women aged 50-64 currently in work (ONS 2019) and women aged over 50 are the fastest growing group in the workforce. However, CIPD research found 59% of working women between the ages of 45 and 55 who were experiencing menopause symptoms felt this had a negative impact on them at work such as being less able to concentrate or experiencing more stress.

For some workers menopausal symptoms may result in increased absence levels or a dip in performance, but managing these situations can be complicated by a woman’s reluctance to discuss her personal issues with a line manager perceived as being ill-informed or insensitive about the menopause. The new Acas guidance aims to support employers, managers and workers by raising awareness about the menopause and offering practical tips on how to approach what can be a sensitive subject for some.

Scope and status

The guidance provides an overview of how the menopause may affect a worker, including information on typical perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms. It also signposts employers to further information about those women (estimated one in twenty) who undergo early menopause.

The barriers to women disclosing their menopausal symptoms at work are considered and potential solutions are offered such as developing a policy or training line managers.

Finally the guidance outlines the legal implications of menopausal symptoms, including an employer’s health and safety obligations and potential discrimination risks.

As the Acas guidance is not a statutory code, employment tribunals are not obliged to take it into account. However it may still be used as evidence in legal proceedings where it is relevant.

Key suggestions from Acas

  • ensure health and safety checks are suitable, assessing risks such as workplace temperature and ventilation, toilet and washroom facilities, availability of cold drinking water
  • raise awareness by developing a policy and training managers on issues such as the impact of menopausal symptoms, relevant workplace accommodations and legal implications
  • carefully and sympathetically manage sickness absence or dips in performance, being prepared to make changes where reasonable
  • offer an alternative to a line manager as the first point of contact, for example, a counsellor from the employee assistance programme or a menopause champion
  • consider appointing a menopause champion who could act as a point of contact for workers and managers, in addition to running internal workshops and setting up a support network
  • ensure managers receive appropriate training on menopause symptoms, workplace support options and how to have sensitive conversations

The guidance also sets out a step-by-step approach for employers to follow when agreeing changes at work to help a worker manage their menopausal symptoms.

Comment

The publication of this guidance is timely, it recently being reported that Channel 4 is the latest employer to adopt a menopause policy and appoint a champion, and the Labour party announcing its intention to oblige larger companies to introduce policies for women experiencing the menopause.

The CIPD and a number of trade unions have already published menopause guidance, so Acas is not the first to offer such recommendations. However, it is likely that the involvement of Acas will help this issue gain further traction and, in common with recent initiatives in relation to mental health, it highlights growing expectations of how employers should support the wellbeing of their workforce.

Furthermore, increased rates of employment among women aged 50 and above mean more working women than ever before will experience the menopause, so clearly this is not an issue which employers can afford to ignore if their aim is to have an inclusive working environment.

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