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Kate Palmer


HR Advice and Consultancy Director

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Heatwave measures in place are not fit for menopause sufferers

Whilst heatwaves can be a period of discomfort for us all, more needs to be done to protect employees with health conditions like the menopause.

Living in a country famed for its mild temperatures and gloomy skies, I think it’s safe to say that all of us here in the UK found it somewhat of a struggle to adjust to the sweltering heat that July had in store for us.

As the temperature reached a staggering 40 degrees centigrade in some parts of the country, and mid to high 30s for the rest, employers up and down the UK brought in temporary measures to ensure their staff could stay safe, productive, and comfortable as the heatwave raged on.

Employers brought in temporary measures to beat the heat.

For indoor workers, this included the use of air conditioning and desk fans, as well as open ventilation and a relaxed dress code. 

And for those working outdoors, employers were encouraged to allow longer and more frequent breaks, avoiding spending too long in the sun during the hours at which it is at its hottest, and provide appropriate PPE – which might have included the use of hats, protective eyewear, and sunscreen.

Some went one step further, providing cold refreshments to their staff: a nice little treat, and a great way to help prevent heat stroke.

Specific considerations must be given to those with conditions.

But whilst all of these actions go a long way towards ensuring that employees can maintain a level of comfort whilst carrying out their work duties, there are special considerations that must be made for those with certain health conditions – including menopause.

The government may have decided to not introduce menopause as a specific protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

But that doesn’t mean that employers should be sweeping it under the rug. And particularly not when the summer can become a time of severe discomfort for those suffering.

Menopause + heatwaves = unhappy employees.

As everyone knows, extreme heat and the menopause are a match made in hell.

With one of the most common symptoms of the condition being hot flushes – where sudden sensations of heat will surge through one’s chest, neck and face resulting in excessive perspiration, rapid heartbeat, and red, blotchy skin – you can imagine that adding Sahara-like temperatures to the mix is nothing short of insufferable for those affected.

So must I legally protect my employees going through menopause?

Although there is no separate protection for employees going through the menopause, there still exists a risk of claims for age, sex, and even disability discrimination – if the condition causes detrimental impact to the employee’s ability to carry out their role for longer than a period of 12 months.

As employers must not – legally or morally – treat an employee less favourably due to any health condition, they should therefore consider reasonable adjustments.

The great thing is, is that there are some very simple yet effective changes that can be made, which will not put a dent in your business’s pocket.

Here are the essentials for summer survival.

Communication is key.

Firstly, as with every HR issue, I must stress how important it is to speak with your staff to find out just how you can support them. Menopause – as with every health condition – can impact people in very different ways and to varying degrees, so there is no quick fix, nor one-size-fits-all approach.

Granted, talking about the menopause might not come easily for some. Traditionally, there has been a stigma related to the condition and historically, this has meant that many employees have perhaps not felt comfortable enough to raise their struggles at work.

However, recent media coverage has done a lot to shed some light on the issue and, given the 44% jump in employment tribunals related to menopause from 2020 to 2021, it’s clear that many people are ready to speak up.

To stamp out the stigma, champion an open and inclusive environment where feedback on all issues is valued. And, of course, ensure that when a problem is raised, you put measures in place as soon as is practicable to tackle it. Then your employees will see that they are taken seriously and will see the value in speaking up about their experiences.

And of course, it should go without saying that employers have a duty of care to their employees, which does include making reasonable adjustments.

Amend uniforms where necessary.

One such adjustment would be to address your dress code policies – particularly on hot days.

Enabling your staff to wear looser and lighter fabrics can make a real difference to comfort levels, which will have a huge impact on productivity levels for the better.

Good ventilation is vital too. 

Open your windows and amend workstation layouts to relocate those impacted closer to them and to avoid being in direct sunlight. If this is simply not possible owing to your office setting, then a quick fix could be applying reflective window films.

You can also think about providing fans; a simple desk fan can be a great way to ensure each employee can control the temperature directly around them.

Take steps to prevent fatigue.

It’s important to bear in mind that those going through the menopause may be more prone to exhaustion, which can of course be exacerbated in the heat. 

In these cases, offering longer or more frequent breaks, or even a temporary amendment to duties – particularly where the employee usually undertakes strenuous work – can be instrumental in supporting your workforce through the summer. 

Providing water stations to promote hydration is also really crucial.

Pledge your support.

I’d recommend any company that hasn’t already, sign the Workplace Menopause Pledge.

The pledge works to raise awareness and understanding that menopause can be an issue in the workplace and is dedicated in supporting all impacted employees.

But it’s important to remember that you may have other members of staff, not necessarily those going through the menopause, that may be sensitive to heat. In which case, the same reasonable adjustments should also be offered to them.

Interested in this topic? Read Focusing on taboo health woes boosts employee wellbeing

Author Profile Picture
Kate Palmer

HR Advice and Consultancy Director

Read more from Kate Palmer

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