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What should employers do?
The TUC's guide, Supporting Women through the Menopause, recommends the following:
- Employers should ensure that all line managers have been trained to understand how the menopause can affect work and what adjustments may be necessary to support women who are experiencing the menopause.
- Employers should ensure that issues such as the menopause are highlighted as part of a wider occupational health awareness campaign, so that all staff know the employer has a positive attitude to the issue and that it is not something women should feel embarrassed about. Guidance on how to deal with the menopause should be freely available in the workplace.
- All women in a workplace should be given information on how they can get support for any issues that arise as a result of the menopause. Because of the way society treats the menopause, many women will feel uncomfortable going to their line manager, especially if it's is a man, and other options should be available. This may be through human resources or a welfare officer. Many employers have Employee Assistance Programmes that can act as a go-between.
- Sickness absence procedures should make it clear that they are flexible enough to cater for menopause-related sickness absence. Women should experience no detriment because they may need time off during this time.
- Working arrangements should be flexible enough to ensure they meet the needs of menopausal women, who may need to leave suddenly. They may also need more breaks during the day. Employers should avoid penalising staff who need to take more frequent toilet breaks.
- Risk assessments should consider the specific needs of menopausal women and ensure the working environment will not make their symptoms worse. Issues that need looking at include temperature and ventilation. The assessments should also address welfare issues, such as toilet facilities and access to cold drinking water. Improved welfare facilities could also include a quiet place to rest and easily adjustable temperature and humidity controls. Employers already have statutory duties to provide these facilities under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.
The TUC advice reminds reps that all workplaces are different. For example, in some workplaces it is not possible to open windows to improve ventilation and women who wear a uniform will also be less able to change the type of clothing they are wearing when they are having hot flushes or sweating. The TUC study, Working through the change, includes a number of examples of how managers have adapted to the needs of women with menopausal symptoms. These include:
- allowing women to report sick to women managers;
- taking the menopause into account in absence policy;
- providing electric fans;
- providing cold drinking water; and
- allowing time off to attend medical appointments in working hours.
The teachers' union NASUWT has produced a leaflet, The Menopause: Health, Safety and Welfare Issues, which sets out the health and safety law that applies:
- Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to ensure "the health, safety and welfare at work" of all employees.
- The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 place an overriding duty on employers to make workplaces suitable for the individuals who work in them.
- The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require the employer to undertake a suitable and sufficient assessment of risks and take action to prevent exposure to risks.
- The public sector equality duty places an obligation on all public bodies to promote gender equality and eliminate discrimination. Public service providers will need to assess how they can meet the needs of women using their service, and public sector employers, including local authorities, will need to consider the needs of all their staff and their employment practices.