The new EHRC guidelines on menopause in the workplace: What do they mean?

New guidelines from EHRC emphasise employers' legal duty to support employees through menopause. This article will take you through what the guidelines mean and how you can implement effective menopause support at your company.

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Menopause is a natural transition in life for those born with a uterus. It marks the end of reproductive years – hormone levels change, periods will stop, and it normally happens between the ages of 45 and 55. However, the transition actually begins earlier than a lot of people think, with symptoms appearing in your late 30s to early 40s. This stage is known as perimenopause.

With common symptoms like hot flushes, brain fog, mood swings, and anxiety, it's not hard to see how menopause and perimenopause might affect someone at work, both physically and with their mental health. The numbers speak for themselves, with 63% of menopausal women saying their symptoms have had a negative impact on their working life.

One in 10 women have left work because of menopause symptoms, according to research by Fawcett Society, and last year that amounted to 1 million women leaving the UK workforce.

New guidance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has tried to address this impact and has put in place protective legal measures for anyone who might experience discrimination at work due to menopause.

So what is the new EHRC guideline?

The new EHRC guideline focuses specifically on addressing the challenges that menopause can cause at work, both physical and psychological.

The guideline highlights employers' legal obligations in supporting employees through menopause. It makes it clear that under the Equality Act 2010, employers are obliged to make 'reasonable adjustments' to accommodate individuals dealing with menopausal symptoms. These adjustments are aimed at ensuring that employees going through menopause can carry out their duties effectively, free from discrimination or unnecessary challenges.

What does this mean for employers?

The EHRC's guidance on menopause drives home the importance for employers to grasp their legal responsibilities in supporting employees during menopause. Failing to make these reasonable adjustments could open the door to potential disability discrimination claims and lawsuits.

According to the EHRC:

"If menopause symptoms amount to a disability, an employer will be under a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments. They will also be under a legal obligation to not directly or indirectly discriminate because of the disability or subject the woman to discrimination arising from disability."

Employers have a legal duty to create an environment where women feel supported and empowered to ask for what they need. No one should experience unfair treatment, direct or indirect discrimination, or unfair dismissal due to the symptoms of menopause. Everyone should be given the same chance to thrive, regardless of age, gender, or stage of life.

Is menopause a disability?

Again referencing the EHRC, "If menopause symptoms have a long-term and substantial impact on a woman’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, these symptoms could be considered a disability."

That being said, menopause is an inevitable phase of life if you're born with a uterus, and around 50% of the population will experience it. 1 in 4 people who go through menopause will be symptom-free, and 1 in 4 will experience debilitating menopausal symptoms. Half will be somewhere in between.

Does this mean that every woman's menopause should be considered a disability? No. But what is a non-negotiable is that workplace support is available and accessible for the people who will experience menopause symptoms.

Employees need to understand that menopause is a natural part of life for half of the population. The EHRC guidance that categorises menopause as a disability is positive in that employees can now take legal action for menopause discrimination, but this is not the solution to women being discriminated against in the workplace. There's more that needs to be done here to make workplaces work for menopausal individuals.

As with all health conditions, it's important to consider each person as an individual and their symptoms and experiences as unique. Listening to your employees, showing them empathy, and putting the right measures of support in place to help them through whatever they are experiencing, is always the best way forward.

How can employers implement menopause support at work?

If you're reading this and wondering how you can bring the best menopause support to your company, we can help.

To start, have a look through our two guides, 'How to write your menopause policy' and 'Why menopause training for your managers should be a top priority'

For further support aimed at HR and People leads, you can find our menopause whitepapers here, including 'How to support a colleague through menopause', 'Why menopause support is crucial for your DE&I agenda', 'Understanding menopause challenges in the workplace', and more.

We want to arm employers with the right tools to create workplaces that support anyone navigating menopause. This requires a thoughtful and individualistic approach. Menopause is not the same for every person, and your support will have to be tailored to meet your employees' unique needs.

From practical advice like encouraging open discussions to offering flexible work arrangements and practical solutions like rest areas or adjusting office temperatures, it's about meeting employees where they are.

Through our in-house clinical team, we support employees with ongoing care throughout their menopause and perimenopause journeys. If you're looking to put menopause support in place for your employees, book in a call with our team who can talk you through how we work at Fertifa 💜