May 2024

Businesses must make 'reasonable adjustments' for menopausal women

Louise Taft Consultant Solicitor - Employment

The move also comes on the back of several high-profile Employment Tribunal cases in which employers have been held to have discriminated against women experiencing menopause.

The textbook definition of the menopause is defined as being a point in time 12 months after a woman’s last period, which stop due to lowering hormone levels as women get older.

The period prior to this called the perimenopause can last for several years, bringing with it potentially debilitating symptoms which can affect women in their everyday life – both at home and at work.

The EHRC issued the guidance to employers to explain how laws that have existed for many years may protect the growing numbers of working women experiencing menopause.

But what are employers legally obliged to do, what constitutes a ‘reasonable’ adjustment and what more can employers choose to do to support women at this time of life? Louise Taft, consultant employment lawyer at Jurit LLP, explores in this article, which features on People Management. 

The EHRC guidance, entitled Menopause in the workplace: Guidance for employers, aims to clarify legal obligations and provide practical tips.

It’s user friendly, with a number of helpful videos and was published, in part, in response to the results of a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) survey.

Their research revealed that up to two thirds (67%) of working women with experience of menopause symptoms found that it negatively impacted them at work. Not only this, one in ten women surveyed by the Fawcett Society, stated that they left employment due to their symptoms.

Why did the guidance hit the headlines?

EHRC’s guidance hit the headlines because it confirms that menopause symptoms can be considered a disability under the Equality Act and therefore obligates employers to make reasonable adjustments for the worker.

In doing so, they also point out that less favourable treatment of women experiencing menopause could be unlawful direct discrimination on grounds of age and sex.

What sorts of reasonable adjustments should employers consider?

Menopause symptoms vary in severity, and some women experience debilitating symptoms that do affect them to such an extent they meet the definition of disability in the Equality Act – this is that the symptoms have a long term and substantial impact on the woman’s day to day activities.

For these women, there is a duty on their employer to make reasonable adjustments.

However, as the employer you need to be aware both that the symptoms are this debilitating and that the adjustments could alleviate the problems the woman is experiencing.

Commonly requested reasonable, practical adjustments might include:

  • Fresh air
  • Comfortable desk seating
  • Natural light
  • A private room/ability to work without distractions
  • Temperature controlled workspace
  • Flexible hours
  • Homeworking

The challenge of objectivity

What is and is not reasonable will, of course, depend on the job functions of those involved and the particular workplace in question.

However, many of the adjustments mentioned above should be possible without impacting on productivity – either of the woman in question or her colleagues.

Indeed, employers might consider making adjustments whether the symptoms are so severe as to constitute a disability or not. Not only will this support the wellbeing of the person in question, it can also ensure the retention of that talent within your business.

This is exactly what property consultancy, Vail Williams LLP, did when they launched their “Menopause Matters” campaign in 2023.

Best Practice Case Study – Vail Williams LLP

Vail Williams is a property consultancy employing over 170 people across 12 offices in the UK.

In 2023, they implemented a menopause awareness campaign which began with a management course and saw the firm go on to implement several adjustments in support of those affected by the menopause, as well as those more indirectly affected too.

Explaining their decision to invest in this area, Tanya Horscroft, Learning & Development Manager at Vail Williams, said:

Tanya Horscroft, Learning & Development Manager, Vail Williams LLP.

“Without knowledge, understanding is almost impossible. The roll out of a menopause awareness course was designed to deliver a compassionate understanding and expanded comprehension of the issue at a managerial level, which in turn would support those struggling with some of its symptoms.”

Such was the success of the course from menopause training specialist, Nicola Green Consultancy, that the firm went on to deliver a range of other initiatives including a Women’s Wellness Risk Assessment as well as more practical support for women with symptoms, including a menopause ‘first aid kit’ for each office.

Nicola Green, of Nicola Green Consultancy, a former Operations Manager in law who herself experienced menopause aged just 32, is passionate about raising awareness around the issue. She added:

Nicola Green, Menopause Awareness Specialist at Nicola Green Consultancy.

“Often it is the simplest of support that makes the world of difference, and it doesn’t have to cost the earth. From period products in toilets to the ability to comfortably approach a manager who is confident in their own understanding of this topic.

“I tell all managers in my training sessions that they are not expected to have all the answers or to be menopause experts, but being able to provide a listening space can be so very supportive.

“Finally, a key point to remember when considering the experience, management and support for menopausal individuals is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach – everyone should be supported on an individual basis.”

What are the risks if you do not make reasonable adjustments?

Employers who do not consider adjustments could find that they not only run the risk of losing valuable staff but could also find themselves in front of the Employment Tribunal if a member of staff makes a claim against them.

For help and support on the issue, take a look at the EHRC guidance, top tips and videos which are all very helpful and, if necessary, seek legal advice from an employment law expert.

For more information or help and advice, get in touch.

Louise Taft Consultant Solicitor - Employment +44 (0) 20 7060 6474
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Please note this paper is intended to provide general information and knowledge about legal developments and topics which may be of interest to readers. It is not a comprehensive analysis of law nor does it provide specific legal advice. Advice on the specific circumstances of a matter should be sought.