Irish Employment Law In Brief: Menopause Special - October 2022Posted in : Supplementary Articles ROI on 12 October 2022 Issues covered: Menopause; Well-being; Discrimination
This month’s 'In Brief' focuses on International Menopause Day on 18th of October.
We’ve highlighted the key themes, to help you keep up to date with developments.
Why Do We Need a Menopause Day?
Menopause is a change all women go through, however, some sail through it with few symptoms, while others have a more difficult transition. It’s important to be aware of how HR can support employees and we’ll help you do that by highlighting helpful resources you can signpost to employees, success stories from organisations who lead in innovation in this area and cautionary tales on how some workplaces have got it wrong. Very wrong.
Courtney Cox was the first person to say ‘period’ in a US TV commercial in 1985. Courtney even recreated a tongue in cheek ad for menopause parodying the original 1985 ad. There’s been a realisation ‘women’s problems’ (hushed whisper) impact on work and actually need to be spoken about openly.
RTE’s The Change: Ireland’s Menopause Story does just that and is an informative and engaging documentary that opens up conversations on menopause in general.
The Menopause Hub and Ibec found in their October 2021 ‘Menopause in the Workplace’ survey 86% of respondents were not comfortable telling their line manager the real reason for menopause-related absence. Although 79% of respondents stated menopause was relevant to their organisation, only 25% said it was ‘very likely’ their organisations would introduce menopause specific supports within 1-2 years.
How HR Can Support Employees
The CIPD provided guidance for people professionals, encouraging them to treat the menopause as they would any other health issue and to create an inclusive environment where employees and managers can discuss any reasonable adjustments that can be made.
Trade Union, Fórsa called for a menstrual health policy in every Irish workplace as they state that over 70% of women have taken time off work due to period pain.
Caroline Reidy from the HR suite outlined what could be included in a menopause policy in this webinar as well as other resources and the CIPD also provide key points to cover.
Queen’s University in Belfast launched a range of menopause support earlier this year, including a useful ‘Menopause FAQs’ document for staff and line managers and people undergoing menopause, including trans men, trans women and non-binary people. Personnel Today sets out the key things to include in a menstruation (period) policy, including considerations for people who have menstrual symptoms.
Awareness and training for people managers is vital to encourage conversations and put meaningful support in place. These can range from e-learning packages like the one from Legal Island, aimed specifically at creating an overall awareness for all staff.
Is Menopause Protected by the Employment Equality Acts?
Menopause is not protected in and of itself however, for some employees with menopausal symptoms, this can lead to increased absence and affect their work performance.
Issues connected to menopause can lead to claims of sex, age and/or disability discrimination as described by Lewis Silkin in this article. They also outline measures employers can take such as positive messaging, multiple channels for support, clear sickness procedures and flexibility.
What About the Men?
It would be easy for men to dismiss menopause as a ‘woman’s issue’, but every man has a mum, sister, partner, friend or colleague who will experience perimenopause and menopause and can play their part by learning what it’s all about and becoming an ally.
Dr Brian Kennedy, a GP from Nenagh, Co Tipperary founded a virtual group consisting of GPs offering peer advice on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) treatment and prescribing for patients experiencing menopause has reached nearly 800 members.
How Have Organisations Got it Wrong?
As promised, there are also cautionary tales of organisations that got it so wrong it will stick your mind permanently. These are UK cases, however, Irish HR professionals can learn from them. In Merchant v British Telecommunications plc  a line manager dismissed a long term employee without considering how the menopause had impacted on her performance, as he ‘did not consider the female-specific problem of menopause to be comparable to other health issues’ and failed to refer the claimant for a medical investigation before deciding to dismiss.
More recently, a female finance executive won an age discrimination claim after her younger male boss told her 'Calm down.. don't let the hormones get out of control.' Digital logistics CEO Jack Williams regarded Louise McCabe, then 55, as 'a menopausal woman' and made the remark during a 'heated exchange' at a company meeting, an employment tribunal heard. Williams stripped Mrs McCabe of her role as a company director and eventually fired her after she raised concerns about how staff at the e-commerce firm he founded were being treated.
Workplace Menopause Support Group – Why You Should Have One
Legal Island has established its own in-house menopause support group for employees, affectionately known as CoCo or “Cardigan’s On, Cardigan’s Off” in recognition of the need to dress in anticipation of the next hot flush. Here’s what some of the members have to say:
“For me the Coco group has been a dolly mixture of being entertaining, enlightening and life changing. It made me feel that within Legal Island I had a support group of women who were feeling the same as me and were experiencing similar symptoms to me. The group has given me the courage to seek help from my GP thus allowing me to get on with my work and life whilst navigating perimenopause. I would highly recommend a Coco group in every organisation.”
“Our Coco meetings are fantastic! I initially joined the meetings as I wanted to learn more about peri-menopause and quickly discovered I was experiencing more symptoms than I first thought. It was great to chat with my colleagues about the less commonly known peri-menopausal symptoms and to listen to their experiences. Thanks to our group, I have finally made an appointment with my GP to discuss how I’ve been feeling and the treatment options available to me.”
“From the inaugural Coco meeting I realised I was in a comfortable safe environment not set up to simply tick a box for Legal Island but set up to empower women. I can voice my health concerns without being judged and practical tips come flooding back to support me with my worries. The group may be small but the knowledge is staggering!”
The responsibility isn’t solely on employers and employees can take steps to ease symptoms.
Menopause.ie encourages a self-help approach with links to podcasts, news and health and lifestyle articles to help mitigate physical and mental symptoms. RTÉ’s Joe Duffy focused on the issue of menopause and lack of support available during his Liveline programme (start listening at 38:30) and this also resulted in the documentary mentioned above.
Joe Wicks, Body Coach spoke to Davina McCall to offer suitable workouts (wouldn’t it be amazing if we burned as many calories with a hot flash as doing a 5 mile run?!) and recipes for those with peri-menopause or menopause symptoms.
Joking aside, the resounding message through all these resources is this is a natural transition which should be treated the same as any other medical condition that can affect an employee and given the same empathy and consideration by line managers and colleagues alike.
Menopause Training Resources
Legal Island has created a Menopause eLearning course, designed to improve your staff’s understanding of the menopause, and help create a more comfortable working environment for women experiencing the menopause. This course is for all employees, regardless of gender.
Click HERE to get a FREE demo of this course on behalf of your organisation.This article is correct at 12/10/2022
The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.