Following my recent post on menstrual leave, I saw a New York Times article on “menopause-friendly workplaces.” Now that’s a term I had not seen before in my many years of practicing employment law. But apparently it’s a thing in Britain, and may be spreading to US companies.
In Britain, companies can actually be certified as “menopause-friendly” by Henpicked, a British professional training firm. According to the NY Times, over 50 companies have been certified (including the West Ham United football team, as I’m sure my son will be delighted to hear). Wellbeing for Women, a women’s health charity, in collaboration with Hello! Magazine and Bupa, has asked British employers to sign the Menopause Workplace Pledge, and report that over 2000 companies have done so. The Pledge asks employers to commit to: recognizing that menopause can be an issue in the workplace; talking openly, positively and respectfully about menopause; and actively supporting employees affected by menopause.
Here in the US, such organized efforts have not yet hit the mainstream. But this may be changing, as shown by New York City mayor Eric Adams’ public commitment earlier this year to create menopause-friendly workplaces for city employees by improving policies and buildings. And just this week, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau hosted a roundtable discussion on “The Menopause Transition and Work.”
But what does that actually mean in practical terms? Well, just as my partner Lindsey White suggested ways to make workplaces more welcoming to new parents, there are actions that can be taken by employers who are interested in supporting employees with menopause, who may be experiencing symptoms (e.g. “brain fog,” hot flashes, emotions run rampant, and many others that may not be immediately recognizable as menopause-related) that could impact their work. Peppy, an organization working with employers around the globe to provide specialist support for gender-related health issues, provides resources to employers seeking to create menopause-friendly workplaces. Some of their suggestions include the following:
- Allow flexible working when employees are experiencing symptoms, including remote work, flexible uniform policies, and modified work schedules.
- Provide workplace modifications, such as access to fans and good ventilation, ability to control the office temperature, cold drinking water, and quiet workplace rest areas.
- Implement training and education for all employees to raise awareness and understanding.
- Develop a menopause policy.
- Provide access to treatment, including EAP and specialized providers.
It is worth noting that these actions are generally not legally required, unless the menopause symptoms rise to the level of a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act or a serious health condition under the Family and Medical Leave Act. However, taking such actions can help retain workers who may be struggling with menopause symptoms – and workforce retention is a primary goal of many employers in the face of continuing staffing shortages.
But at the same time, it is important not to stigmatize those with menopause – or even to assume that all women are experiencing serious symptoms. Such assumptions can create issues of age or sex discrimination. And on the flip side, focusing resources and attention only on certain female-specific conditions might raise concerns of reverse sex discrimination against male employees. It can be important for employers to be sensitive and supportive to the wide range of personal health concerns that employees may face – even those that may not rise to the level of a disability – understanding that not everyone needs or wants the same level or type of support.