Charities urged to support menopausal employees following EHRC guidance

28 Feb 2024 News

Woman over 50 at work

Centre for Ageing Better

Charity employers have been encouraged to support their menopausal employees better after Britain’s equalities watchdog published new guidance.

Last week, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published guidance on menopause in the workplace, setting out employers’ legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010. 

The guidance says that menopause may be considered a disability if symptoms “have a long-term and substantial impact” on a person’s ability “to carry out normal day-to-day activities”. 

It comes after an employment appeal tribunal case recently set a legal precedent by confirming that menopausal symptoms can amount to a disability for the purpose of the Equality Act. 

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), Chartered Management Institute (CMI), Charity Finance Group (CFG) and lawyers welcomed the guidance, calling on charity sector employers to take perimenopause and menopause seriously.  

Legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments

EHRC’s guidance says “a significant proportion of women report that menopause symptoms can negatively affect them at work”, with some feeling forced to leave their jobs. 

“It’s essential that employers recognise the impact the menopause and perimenopause can have on women and ensure that they are fulfilling their legal obligations in this area,” it says.

“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.”

It adds that if symptoms amount to a disability, employers have 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.

“Women experiencing menopause symptoms may also be protected from direct and indirect discrimination, as well as harassment and victimisation, on the grounds of age and sex.”

Charities urged to act

Shoosmiths trainee solicitor Rosannah Byrne and partner Michael Briggs said charity employers should:

  • Review policies to reflect the effect of the menopause on workers.
  • Take care if disciplining workers for absence when menopause may be a factor.
  • Ensure that adequate training is carried out for managers on how to support staff experiencing menopause.
  • Accommodate workers experiencing such symptoms and, where the individual comes within the definition of disability, make any reasonable adjustments that may be required (such as regulation of room temperature, quiet rooms, dress codes, or flexible working).

They also advised charities to be aware of the potential for claims arising for age and sex discrimination on the grounds of less favourable treatment due to menopausal symptoms.

Charities should also consider the use of language that could constitute harassment on the grounds of age, sex, or disability, they said.

“Employers who adopt a menopause-friendly working environment ensure that they remain compliant with the guidelines, and in turn promote an inclusive working culture,” they said.

“This can both be positive for employee relations, and this can improve the attraction and retention of talent, especially in a world in which individuals are likely to spend a longer period of time working or volunteering.”

Meanwhile, Stone King employment team partner Harriet Broughton said following the guidance could help charities retain employees at a time when the sector deals with workforce challenges.

‘Small changes can make a big difference’

Laura Millar, head of HR at CFG, said that charities “should be proactive in providing support and helping to break the taboo that exists” around perimenopause and menopause.  

“CFG’s employee handbook has included a menopause policy since 2021 and we’ve found this to be a good first step to providing the right support,” she said.

“Training is important because line managers must feel confident having conversations with team members to truly understand their individual needs.

“Reasonable adjustments can be made and these can include remote working, covering the cost of a fan or cooling system, and reducing hours and duties.”

Rachel Suff, senior policy adviser at CIPD, said charities have an obligation to “discuss and implement reasonable adjustments” for employees.

“Helpful adjustments could include flexible working and recording menopause-related absence outside the normal recording system,” she said.

“CIPD encourages organisations to make helpful adjustments for people even if their symptoms don’t necessarily amount to a disability, as in many cases small changes can make a big difference to someone’s ability to manage their symptoms alongside work.”

Menopause awareness ‘vital for an inclusive work culture’

Michelle De Bank Burgess, chair of the menopause inclusion hub at the CMI, said incorporating menopause awareness was “vital for creating an inclusive work culture”. 

“A workplace that values and accommodates menopausal needs not only promotes employee wellbeing but also the progression of inclusion, breaking down barriers and ensuring that different journeys are acknowledged and respected by all genders,” she said.

“The new menopause in the workplace guidance from the EHRC is a welcomed measure that provides informative advice on how employers can best support their staff and prevent discrimination.

“Each organisation is unique, and what proves effective for one employer might not be the same for another.

“It’s therefore crucial for employers to assess their specific workplace dynamics and engage with their workforce to determine the most suitable measures for their needs.”

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