First a disclaimer, not being a women of a certain age I do not have personal experience of the side effects of going through the menopause. I do however hear about it from a number of my colleagues and know that there are varying levels of symptoms that are experienced.
When discussing this topic with others you frequently get a response “women have been going through this for centuries without a problem why such a fuss now?” I’m not sure I know the answer to that but it certainly is something employers are increasingly having to address in the workplace with menopause increasingly being cited as a reason for unfair dismissal.
The situation seems to throw up three main areas for possible contention:
- Social aspects – i.e. temperature in the room, space for women to be able to take a minute to regain emotional balance, dress codes and presentation etc.
2. Performance management
The general rule of treat others how you would want to be treated should deal with contention area #1. However, this is easier said than done. What might be considered friendly banter by some can cross the line especially when someone is already feeling quite self-conscious about themselves. As an employer you need to treat this as you would any other situation where colleagues are taking matters too far and being disrespectful and unkind to each other – remind staff as to the boundaries, require that they are respected and take action if they are not.
Performance management is difficult. Brain fog is a genuine symptom but it can be difficult to deal with an employee who keeps forgetting to perform tasks they have been assigned. Just because they are going through the menopause does not stop an employer taking the employee through a performance management process. A performance management process is designed to assist the employee in improving. It allows an employer to have a discussion with the employee about the need to see improvement and how that improvement may be achieved. There may be practical points such as agreeing to send extra reminders about meetings (not to be patronising but to assist) or having shorter meetings about fewer things for example. You do need to keep in mind whether you also have a duty to consider reasonable adjustments.
Menopause is not a disability. However, for some women the symptoms can be so debilitating. As with other medical situations where symptoms are a physical or mental impairment that have a long term significant impact on day to day activities the symptoms may be considered to be classed as a disability. In order to be able to assist an employee going through such debilitating symptoms getting occupational health involved is a good idea. A medical opinion on the severity of the symptoms can help employers and employees understand where they lie within the legal protections and suggest reasonable adjustments that may assist both parties.
Often sex discrimination is cited because generally speaking women are seen to go through the menopause. Sex discrimination claims may be well founded so employers need to ensure they treat their employees equally, but men can also experience menopause symptoms. It is less well publicised but should be a consideration for employers.
For any further information, contact us to speak to a member of our employment team.