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Menopause at work: supporting employees (...BMS show way)

A Parliamentary inquiry has prompted debate about whether employment legislation needs to provide specific protection for the menopause.

Recent reports of an acute shortage of hormone replacement therapy has highlighted the difficulties that symptoms of the perimenopause or menopause can create for women, in their personal lives and at work, says Joanna Chatterton. 

Employers are increasingly aware of the need to engage with and offer support to menopausal staff, not least because women over 50 are the fastest growing segment of the UK workforce. Recent research, conducted with the assistance of the Fawcett Society, found that eight in 10 women say their employer has not shared information, trained staff or put in place a menopause absence policy. 


The nature of the symptoms can have a significant detrimental impact on an employee’s ability to perform their role. Indeed, one in 10 women who worked during their menopause went as far as leaving their job due to their symptoms, says the Fawcett Society research. Departures represent a loss of accumulated knowledge and specific skill sets of senior employees, which could be hard to replace. There may be a knock-on effect on diversity targets. 

The House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee recently reported survey results showing that symptoms have led more than a third of women to miss work. Whether or not an employee takes time off work, managers may notice a change in a their performance, engagement with their role, and/or interaction with colleagues, which will require sensitive investigation.

Given the potential impact, employers should take steps to turn awareness of workplace issues relating to the menopause into an action plan.


An important initial step is to break the taboo that can surround the topic, either because of employee embarrassment or a lack of understanding of what is involved. Providing employees with accurate information and an opportunity to openly discuss menopause issues will encourage colleagues to talk about their experiences and perhaps ask for help at an earlier stage.

One way to do this is to host guest speakers on menopause-related topics, encouraging the entire workforce to attend. It may be difficult to achieve, but engagement from male employees can go a long way to making staff feel an employer is offering genuine support.


Menopause-related tribunal cases have increased steadily in number over the last few years. The decisions demonstrate that one employee’s idea of ‘banter’ may be viewed by another as sex, age, or in some cases disability discrimination (if symptoms are sufficiently debilitating that they meet the definition of a disability under the Equality Act 2010). Badly handled conversations or ill-conceived ‘jokes’ about symptoms such as hot flushes, can quickly overstep the mark into harassment.

It is important to remind employees that professionalism is expected at work and that inappropriate behaviour relating to the menopause will not be tolerated.


A workplace menopause policy presents an opportunity to explain the support and guidance that is on offer to employees. However, simply producing a standalone policy, without taking further action to ensure it is embedded in the organisation, is likely to be a pointless exercise. 

Once a policy has been introduced, targeted training for managers and supervisors will bolster its contents and the aim of supporting employees. Most managers will benefit from guidance on how to have difficult conversations (not just in relation to the menopause) and the importance of handling things sensitively and with respect. It’s a useful workplace skill with longer term benefits for those in leadership positions.


Employers who know they have menopausal employees should consider conducting health and safety risk assessments to identify specific issues that are likely to have a negative impact. As well as good employment practice, this is an important part of an employer’s duties to protect the health and safety of employees. Adjustments to the work environment to assist with symptoms should be considered. Solutions may be practical and relatively simple; the provision of a desk fan to assist with hot flushes, for example, or a rest area so employees can take time out.

If possible, consider adjustments to work patterns to provide flexibility when symptoms are particularly difficult, such as avoiding crowded public transport. If an employee’s symptoms amount to a disability under the Equality Act, there is a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments to alleviate any disadvantages caused.


Issues associated with menopause symptoms are likely to cross over with other HR policies. For example, time off work will involve a sickness absence policy; a downturn in performance due to ‘brain fog’ may impact an annual appraisal. In all cases, internal policies should be followed as normal, so there is no difference in treatment of the menopausal employee compared to a male employee with a medical condition, for example.

Joanna Chatterton is a partner at Fox Williams LLP

Menopause first for BMS

Bristol Myers Squibb UK&I has been announced as the first biopharmaceutical company in the UK to be accredited as a Menopause Friendly Workplace. This standard of achievement is awarded by an independent panel of judges, recognising employers who put diversity, inclusion, and colleagues’ wellbeing at the centre stage of their business, without feeling that the subject is taboo or off-limits.

Since March 2021, BMS UK&I has pioneered a range of menopause-friendly initiatives to support women at work, including:

  • A detailed internal menopause guidance document to support and educate all staff
  • A reasonable adjustments form to help accommodate staff experiencing menopausal symptoms
  • A Rapid Access Female Treatment Service (RAFT) that allows employees experiencing severe menopausal symptoms in the workplace to be referred to a consultant gynaecologist who is an accredited British Menopause Society specialist
  • Training 17 menopause advocates across UK&I sites who help educate, raise awareness, and signpost colleagues on their menopause journey
  • A menopause portal developed for employees, by employees, to access support and information
  • Training more than 60% of the UK&I workforce on menopause awareness (of which this training is mandatory for People Managers and Occupational Health)

Jog Hundle, Menopause Friendly Independent Panel member, said: “We’re delighted to see Bristol Myers Squibb achieve Independent Menopause Friendly Accreditation. Their application was outstanding and they’ve made such a difference for their colleagues. They set clear objectives to create a movement to normalise menopause with strong senior leadership support. They’ve demonstrated excellent menopause awareness, education and support within their organisation, creating a culture where menopause is easy to talk about and put in place outstanding support. Well done to everyone involved.”

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