Over the course of our Talking About Legal Series focussing on the Menopause we have considered why the menopause is an issue for employers, how claims brought by menopausal employees are being dealt with by the courts and finally how the Government is responding to calls to provide greater legislative support for menopause related issues.
The final instalment of this series looks to bring all of this together by talking about the practical steps that employers can and should be taking now, to ensure that their workforce is educated, supported and ready to deal with issues arising from the menopause.
Put in place a gender-neutral menopause policy highlighting the support available to menopausal employees and setting out how this interacts with other company policies (for example sick leave).
As with so many employment issues, a good starting point is ensuring that there is a clear (non-contractual) policy in place, to help set expectations and manage certain behaviours relating to this issue. This recommendation was endorsed by ACAS in its guidance for employers.
At the core of a menopause policy should be the employer's stated commitment to support menopausal employees at work and tell them who they can turn to if they have issues relating to the menopause. Given the general lack of knowledge about the menopause, the policy is likely to state in quite broad terms, what the menopause is and how it could affect employees at work and explain what training is provided to managers and other supervising staff. Employers can then tailor their own policy to fit the culture and specifics of their organisation.
Provide training for management on how to support and manage menopausal employees including identifying when it would be appropriate to make changes to features of the employment, to mitigate the effects the menopause.
Knowledge and empathy to the issues are key. These two factors will be greatly enhanced where employers roll-out training to management on how to support their staff if they are facing menopausal challenges. This training could include helping managers recognise the signs that someone may be struggling with menopausal symptoms. It is also likely to cover some of the risks that employers face if they don't handle menopause-related situations appropriately. Most importantly though, it should give managers the skills to have sensitive conversations with staff about matters arising out of the menopause, including talking about measures that could be put in place at work to alleviate the symptoms.
Importantly, managers need to feel comfortable with discussing issues connected to the menopause, so as to create a culture where staff feel able to confide in them.
Think about what external sources of support you can offer your staff including asking your private health insurer what (if any) cover is offered for menopausal employees.
Employers are neither doctors nor counsellors and as important as it is for employers to have discussions with menopausal employees about their situation, employers must recognise that some employees are likely to need professional medical and/or well-being support to help them through this stage of life.
If the company provides access to a private medical scheme, remind employees of this but also check with the provider about any particular services it may offer to menopausal employees. Likewise, if the company offers staff access to a confidential counselling service, then employers should signpost staff to it.
Raise awareness generally across the business about the menopause.
As we've said throughout this series of articles, employers need to start talking more openly about the menopause. This means not only speaking with managers and impacted employees, but also opening a bigger conversationist the wider workforce, so that the taboo around this subject starts to be lifted.
So how does an employer start on this educational process? It could start by sending a copy of the new menopause policy to all employees; or organising a drop-in session for people that want to know more; or creating a landing page on the intranet where information about the menopause can be posted. Another possibility could be to set up peer group support sessions for those wanting to know more. None of these efforts are mandatory and may not be appropriate for all employers, but should give some food for thought for those employers that are just starting to think about this issue.
Employers should have an open mind when thinking about what measures may support menopausal employees. Flexibility with start times; flexibility with uniform; flexibility with having a break-out area; may all be measure that can keep an employee experiencing the menopause in the workplace and the employer out of the Tribunal.
To talk to the team and learn more about how we can help you.