Last updated: November 15, 2023
Menopause at work FAQ
Menopausal employees are the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace. According to the faculty of occupational medicine, almost 8 out of 10 menopausal women, transgender men and non-binary, and intersex people are in work and Koru Kids estimates there are at least 5.87 million people of menopausal or premenopausal age currently working in the UK.
This means there is an increasing call for employers to support employees going through the menopause, and that makes menopause a trade union issue. The menopause is a natural part of ageing and in the UK, the average age of someone going through the menopause is currently 51 years.
Without a clear understanding of the menopause, its symptoms, or the impact its symptoms can have, employers can risk alienating their employees and with 1 in 10 people leaving work because of menopause, this is a risk employers simply cannot afford to ignore. Similarly, we know that employees worry about being stigmatised by colleagues when they talk about it. That is why having a menopause policy, awareness training and the right support in place at work is vital to the health of millions of workers across the UK. That is where Community comes in.
Each year we support hundreds of Community members, by helping them understand their rights and advising on how to get adjustments to support them at work while going through the menopause.
We negotiate menopause policies into workplaces so more people get the workplace support they need when they are experiencing menopause, and promote training of line managers, so that they understand how to support menopausal employees and know how to help them.
By normalising talking about menopause, Community members feel able to speak to us in confidence, and through this we facilitate positive conversations with employers to get the right support put in place.
We have put together some of the most frequently asked questions we receive from our members to help you understand your rights, and where you stand with the menopause at work.
What is the menopause?
Put simply, menopause refers to the time when you stop having periods. This occurs because your ovaries stop producing eggs and as a result, levels of the hormones they produce (oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone) fall. This usually happens between the ages of 45 to 55, however some may experience the menopause and its symptoms much earlier and for some people symptoms can last much longer.
If you reach menopause before the age of 45, this is known as early menopause and in people under 40 this is sometimes known as Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI). There are many causes for early menopause and you should always contact your medical professional for advice if this happens to you.
If you have a hysterectomy and your ovaries are removed at the same time as your womb, you will immediately reach menopause. This is known as surgical menopause and can happen at any age.
For most people, menopause does not happen overnight. Peri-menopause is where your ovaries slowly start to produce less hormones, so you may notice changes to your periods and you may start to experience menopausal symptoms. Everyone experiences this in a unique way, and it can last for a few months, or for several years. The average time for this transition is 4 years.
Do not be surprised if it takes you a while to notice these gradual changes are happening.
Although many use the word ‘menopause’ to describe the period of time when we notice our periods begin to change, it actually refers to a single day: when you have not had a period for 12 months in a row.
The average age for menopause in the UK is 51, but everyone is different so yours may be earlier or later than this.
This is the rest of your life after menopause (when you have not had a period for 12 months). You may continue to experience symptoms for some time after the menopause, so do not be surprised if they continue for months or years.
If you are ever worried about changes that are happening to your body, we would always advise that you speak to a medical professional for advice.
What are the symptoms of the menopause?
During the menopause, the run up to it (peri-menopause), and after it (post menopause), you can experience a variety of symptoms. Here are some of the most common:
- Heart Palpitations
- Difficulty in sleeping
- Feeling tired or lacking in energy
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Dry mouth and eyes
- Sore gums
- Muscle and joint pains
- Breathing difficulties
- Needing a wee more often, or having leaks of urine
- Vaginal dryness, soreness
- More thrush, cystitis episodes
- Dry or itchy skin
- Thinning hair
- Poor sleep
- Low mood
- Feeling tense or nervous
- Memory problems
- Attacks of anxiety or panic
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of interest in most things
- Feeling unhappy or depressed
- Crying spells
- Mood swings
- Loss of confidence
- Reduced self-esteem
- Brain fog
- Loss of interest in sex and/or level of arousal
Vasomotor symptoms (It’s a heat regulation thing!)
- Hot flushes
- Sweating at night
The severity of symptoms will vary from person-to-person, and not everyone will experience all symptoms, and some people experience only a few.
For some symptoms are easy to manage, while others may experience symptoms so severe that it affects normal day-to-day activities. So it is important to understand that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for coping or dealing with the menopause and any workplace support should remain flexible and fluid as symptoms can change over time.
Who can experience the menopause?
Anyone with a menstrual cycle may experience the menopause, including people who don’t identify as a woman, such as non-binary people, transgender men, or intersex people.
What does the law say?
Under the Equality Act 2010, menopause is largely covered under three protected characteristics: age, sex, and disability discrimination.
Under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, employers have a legal duty to protect employee health and safety at work. The act provides for safe working, which extends to the working conditions when experiencing menopausal symptoms.
Is the menopause a protected characteristic?
While the menopause by itself is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, if you experience menopause-related discrimination at work, you may be able to claim to an employment tribunal on grounds of age, disability or sex discrimination.
How can my employer support me through the menopause?
Your employer has a legal duty to keep you safe at work, this includes your physical and mental health wellbeing.
Employers should treat the menopause with the same support and understanding that they would with any other ongoing health concern. There are many things they can do to support employees going through the menopause, some typical adjustments your employer could make are:
- Offering flexible working options such as working from home, hybrid working or adjusted start and finish times;
- providing extra toilet breaks;
- making adjustments to your workload or the type of work you do;
- making adjustments to any performance or absence targets;
- access to a working environment where the temperature can be adjusted. Sitting near an open window or door can help, or access to a desk fan;
- relaxation of uniform code or providing you with a uniform made from a breathable fabric;
- access to showering or changing facilities; and
- access to a quiet room.
Remember, while going through the menopause, your symptoms and situation is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to it. We always recommend that you keep a diary of your symptoms, and how they are affecting you when you are at work – this will help you and your employer to identify any adjustments that will help you.
What can I do if my employer won't make adjustments?
Any adjustments should always be carefully considered and where reasonable, put in place to remove barriers to help you work safely and comfortably.
If your employer is unreasonably refusing to put adjustments in place, you should speak to your Community Equalities Rep, or contact us directly and we will support you in conversations with your employer.
Your employer could risk legal action for discrimination if they do not treat you, or your symptoms reasonably and fairly.
My colleagues joke about the menopause and laugh at me when I am struggling?
Firstly, you are not alone. We strongly urge you to speak with your employer, or if you don't feel comfortable speaking to them, speak directly with Community Equalities Rep, or contact our Member Service Centre so that we can support you.
This type of behaviour is typical of an unhealthy cultural issue we unfortunately see across workplaces, and you may be experiencing bullying and harassment.
Your employer has a legal duty to keep you safe from bullying, harassment and discrimination, and this includes your mental health and wellbeing. They also have a duty to put measures in place to stop this behaviour, and ensure you are free to attend work, free from bullying, harassment and discrimination.
Your employer should consider a holistic approach to this issue by providing menopause training to all staff, so that they have a better understanding of menopause and are more able to empathise.
Ultimately this type of behaviour should be addressed through the disciplinary procedures to ensure that it stops, and shows other employees that bullying, harassment and discrimination will not be tolerated.
How do I start the conversation with my employer or manager?
Try following these 4 simple steps to help you prepare and talk about the menopause at work.
- Check what your organisation has in place. There may already be a menopause policy, health support, menopause café, or support through employee assistance programmes. Your HR department should be able to tell you what is available.
- Book some time to discuss your health with your employer/manager or HR. This meeting should be held in a private setting where you can talk in confidence.
- Keep a diary of your symptoms and how they are affecting you at work and take this to the meeting. Menopause symptoms affect people in different ways, so helping your employer/manager and HR understand how your symptoms are affecting you in work will help them to support you as an individual.
- Agree a support plan and a follow up meeting to check the support is working. Your employer/manager and HR may need time to get more advice and come back to you. Also, your symptoms could change over time, so you may need to make adjustments.
I work in an office and the heating is set generically for everyone so I cannot adjust it?
There are several ways to adjust the temperature of your working environment. You may be able to sit near an open window or a door, or away from radiators, or have a desk fan.
If this does not work, you can request to work in a different area where the temperature can be adjusted or turned down, or to work from home while you are experiencing severe symptoms.
Please speak with your Equalities Rep, or contact us directly and we will support your first conversation with your employer and offer advice on how they can support you when dealing with hot flushes.
I am struggling with brain fog and it has affected my performance review so I am not getting a bonus this year?
It is important to make your employer aware of the reason that you are struggling so that they can put adjustments in place to help you.
Adjustments could include relaxation or extension of performance targets, to ensure that you are not put at a disadvantage because of your menopause symptoms.
If your employer is aware that your menopause is causing your performance to dip, but is not taking that into consideration when reviewing your performance, contact your Equalities Rep, or us for further advice and support as this could be classed as discrimination.
My manager is younger/male and I feel embarrassed talking to them about the menopause. What can I do?
Having a conversation about your personal health can be daunting, especially with someone who you feel may have no experience of what you are going through. However, the only way you to get help and support at work is by talking to your employer.
If you feel unable to approach this specific person, think about who you would feel comfortable talking to. For example, do you have a HR department you can contact, or is there a different manager you might feel more comfortable speaking with?
You should also contact your Community Equalities Rep, or speak to us directly. We have lots of experience helping members who are going through the menopause to get support, and we can help you initiate this first conversation with your employer.
You can always ask Community if you prefer to speak with a female advisor, just let us know and we can arrange this for you.
What should my employer be doing about the menopause?
Implementing a menopause policy at work
The best way employers can support staff is to implement a menopause policy. A menopause policy will provide consistency in managing menopause, give useful information about the menopause and available workplace adjustments and ensure that all employees know where to access support at work if they need it.
Normalising the menopause and its symptoms
Your employer should be encouraging employees to not be embarrassed about the topic and take any health concerns seriously. Menopause awareness training can really help to promote open conversations and in particular line managers should be trained so that they know how to support employees.
Open dialogue around the menopause in the workplace
Employers should encourage anyone going through the menopause to talk about it. Not only does this help support anyone going through it, but also helps to raise awareness, understanding and create a support network for any employees going through it.
Implement practical solutions for menopausal employees
Simple changes in the workplace like reasonable adjustments and relaxing dress code can massively benefit employees going through the menopause.
Supporting managers and employees
Employers should consider sending managers and employees on menopause awareness training to help people understand the impact it and its symptoms has on employees at work.
What is a menopause policy?
A menopause policy is a workplace policy that outlines your employer’s approach in supporting employees experiencing the menopause and its associated symptoms. This policy should cover anyone who can experience the menopause, whether they are female, non-binary, intersex, or transgender.
Any menopause policy should inform employees on the support available while going through the menopause and educate all employees on the menopause so they can understand and support colleagues experiencing it. Typically, a menopause policy should include:
- A definition of the menopause and its symptoms;
- the reason for the policy e.g., to improve the health, safety and wellbeing of employees experiencing the menopause;
- the policy’s aims e.g., ensuring all employees understand the menopause and its symptoms, and know where to go for support;
- any relevant laws, acts or regulations relevant to the menopause like the Equality Act 2010, or HSAW;
- details on the types of support available for employees experiencing the menopause;
- information on any menopause awareness training available for employees and managers;
- what reasonable adjustments can be made to accommodate dealing with menopause symptoms; and
- who to talk to in order to receive support in the workplace, as well as information on third party organisations that specialise in supporting women going through the menopause.
Does my employer need to have a menopause policy?
While menopause policies are not currently a legal requirement in the UK, not having one in place in a workplace can have a negative impact in many ways, including failing to support employee health and safety, and can result in increased absences, reduced employee engagement and morale.
A lack of support or understanding of the impact of menopause symptoms can also potentially lead to age, sex and disability discrimination – therefore, it is always in your employer’s best interest to have a menopause policy in place.
How can I get a menopause policy implemented at work?
In the first instance, you should speak to your employer, HR department or your Community Equalities Representative, and raise your concerns about the lack of awareness or support available in your workplace for people going through the menopause.
Community has a model menopause policy that you can take to your employer and ask them to implement one in your workplace. You can download this here.
Our equalities team can also help you start the conversation with your employer, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information and support.
If you need help or advice, please contact us at email@example.com or on 0800 389 6332.
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