Employers should be flexible and support employees who are affected by menopause and perimenopause symptoms due to the shortage of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) medication, or they could risk facing discrimination claims.
A surge in demand for HRT treatment has left pharmaceutical manufacturers struggling to keep up. Many women are finding they are unable to get hold of their usual HRT prescription, with the current supply issues expected to continue until June at the earliest.
The HRT shortage in the UK could mean that many women will experience debilitating perimenopause and menopause symptoms, which will affect them at work. Symptoms include brain fog, mood swings, heavy bleeding, sleep deprivation, exhaustion, headaches, joint pain and hot flushes, to name just a few.
The menopause is not specifically a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, which governs matters relating to workplace discrimination in the UK. However, if an employee or worker is disadvantaged by their employer or treated less favourably due to their menopause symptoms, this could amount to sex, age or disability discrimination. Businesses that do not adequately support women who are struggling could therefore be opening themselves up to discrimination claims, where the compensation can be significant.
A growing number of organisations have already put menopause policies in place, but many employers are still lagging behind. The ones that are already alive to the support women may need in relation to the menopause will navigate this crisis better.
It is important that employers take the HRT shortage issue seriously and deal with it sensitively. Having a culture of openness, where employees can raise the fact that they may need extra support or adjustments to their normal working routine without fear of reprisals, is crucial. Employers should be flexible, patient and understanding.
The HRT shortage will hopefully be short-term, but it is yet another reminder of the need for employers to take menopause and perimenopause seriously, so that women experiencing symptoms are properly supported at work.
Amanda Lennon is an employment partner and HR and wellbeing director at Spencer West