Employers are being encouraged to consider the difficulties experienced by employees who are going through menopause, and to make adjustments in the workplace, even though the condition is not yet considered an impairment or disability under Australian law.
Industrial advocate James Vercoe from Fair Work Claims said employers should take the time to understand how menopause affects their employees and has some simple suggestions to help businesses accommodate workers.
“Some women have a terrible time going through menopause, sometimes experiencing severe symptoms that can really affect their ability to perform well at work,” he said.
“By understanding the condition and making some simple adjustments, businesses should be able to look after their staff and ultimately retain good and experienced workers.”
The effect of menopause
Menopause normally occurs for women between 45 and 55 years-old, and lasts for between four to eight years.
The most common symptoms include headaches, hot flushes, problems with concentration or memory, and mood changes.
The severity of the symptoms varies from person to person, and can make work life particularly difficult for some.
According to research from the UK, two-thirds of women reported a moderate to severe impact on their working lives, and some even gave up their jobs for good.
Last year, the UK’s Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour commissioned a poll that found 48 percent of women experiencing menopause said it had “a negative impact on their mental health and mood”.
Previous research has also shown that women view disclosure of menopausal status at work to be threatening and embarrassing, potentially exposing them to ridicule and hostility when discussed with managers.
Menopause and the law
Recently in Australia, courts have ruled that both severe morning sickness and endometriosis can be classified as impairments or disabilities which gives sufferers protection under anti-discrimination laws.
As yet, there has not been any such similar ruling involving the condition of menopause.
But a claim of sex discrimination could possibly be made for a worker who suffered adverse action as a result of menopause, according to Mr Vercoe.
He pointed to a previous case in the UK involving an employee of British Telecom referred to as Ms Merchant.
After being given a final written warning about her performance, Ms Merchant provided a letter from her doctor that explained that she was “going through the menopause which can affect her level of concentration at times”.
The manager chose not to conduct an investigation into her symptoms, and instead, dismissed her.
An employment tribunal ruled in favour of Ms Merchant, upholding her unfair dismissal claim, finding that the company had discriminated against her on the basis of her sex.
It said the manager would never have adopted his “bizarre and irrational approach with other non-female-related conditions”.
What can employers do?
While many managers may lack the knowledge or resources to provide appropriate support for their employees experiencing menopause, Mr Vercoe suggests introducing formal policies around the condition.
Information and resources can be found at the Australasian Menopause Society.
Here are some other steps to consider to make your workplace better for women going through menopause:
1. Train managers and staff
Knowledge is king! Organising training and information sessions for both managers and employees would be useful and help create discussion for supportive conversations to take place. Awareness training can also help to drive cultural change. This would be particularly helpful in workplaces with an ingrained masculine culture.
2. Make simple adjustments
Many of the physical symptoms of menopause can be relieved with some simple steps. For instance, temperature control or better ventilation, access to toilets, cold water and a rest area – can all be fairly easy to arrange. Where uniforms are worn, offer natural, rather than synthetic materials, for women experiencing hot flushes – although it is important that these adjustments do not mark out women wearing them as “different”.
3. Offer flexible hours
When symptoms are more severe, it is important to consider offering flexible working hours. This could include a change from full-time to part-time, or it could be as simple as allowing for late arrivals where a woman has had disturbed sleep. Clearly this requires awareness on the part of managers and trusting relations between managers and staff.
Older Australians should stay in paid employment
Mr Vercoe said it is a shame when businesses lose experienced and capable staff because of menopause.
“It’s important that older Australians are supported and encouraged to stay in paid employment, and if that means bosses have to educate themselves a little about the condition, and make some minor adjustments in the workplace, then they will benefit in the long run by retaining good employees for many years into the future,” he said.
If you have experienced discrimination on the basis of your sex or an impairment or disability, you may be entitled to compensation.
Please call our team at Fair Work Claims today on
1300 853 837
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Fair Work Claims is a private consultancy and advocacy firm with no affiliation to any government agency, commission or tribunal.