Increasing emphasis is being placed on the work employers can do to ensure that their employees feel included and supported in the workplace. This has included guidance being published by a variety of bodies to support employers with creating a welcoming work environment for ethnic minorities, women, LGBTQ+ individuals and other minorities. The recently published British Standards Institution (BSI) standards are likely to become an important measure by which employers’ understanding of what can be done to support employees with periods or who are going through menopause will be assessed.
Why have the standards been introduced?
The primary reason that the BSI has issued these standards is a recognition that there is a general lack of understanding surrounding menstrual health and menopause which has negatively impacted women, trans and non-binary individuals in the workplace and beyond. It is therefore hoped that facilitating better education and training on these issues will enable employees who are experiencing adverse physical and/or mental health effects to better understand the support they can receive.
There is also an emphasis on the need to change the culture surrounding menstrual health and menopause, which remain a taboo topic in many spaces. For example, the BSI worked with the Women of a Certain Stage organisation, which was founded by Lauren Chiren, who had left her job as a result of starting menopause. The standards are intended to assist employers to create an environment in which affected individuals do not have to feel ashamed for seeking support and are empowered to continue working.
What do the standards say?
The standards were drafted in conjunction with many organisations, including Acas and trade unions, as well having been the subject of a public consultation.
One of the key recommendations is increased training for employees, and managers in particular, to better understand the issues that employees may be facing.
Additionally, the standards make it clear that a better understanding of intersectionality and how individuals experiencing their period or menopause will be affected by other characteristics, such as a disability or being trans, are crucial steps to improving the situation.
The BSI also set out the need for employers to offer adjustments to employees who could benefit from them. Suggested adjustments include:
- offering flexible working patterns, particularly allowing employees to work from home when symptoms are less manageable;
- amendments to office spaces to become more inclusive, including offering comfortable seating and desk fans;
- shifting language away from the stigmatising language that is often used when discussing these issues, such as referring to “menstrual products” as opposed to “feminine hygiene products”;
- changes to uniforms and offering more ad hoc breaks, particularly for professions that involve a significant amount of activity or being on your feet;
- ensuring facilities are accessible, ideally with showers and self-contained toilet facilities with washbasins inside the cubicles where possible;
- offering free menstrual products in the workplace and hygienic disposal facilities; and
- checking whether current policies include detail on menstrual health and menopause, and introducing new policies if they are not already in place.
Whilst progress in this area is being made, and many employers have adjusted working practices to ease the burden on employees, it is clear that much work is still to be done. The BSI noted in publishing these standards that “only a minority of UK workplaces” have policies in place for menstrual and menopausal health and wellbeing. This publication should therefore be a helpful source for employers to improve their practices.
Whilst the standards are not legislation nor government guidance, meaning that there are no legal repercussions for non-compliance, the BSI emphasises that organisations that do not update their practices to become more inclusive “risk being left behind”. In addition, sex, gender identity and disability are protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. Employers who do not take steps to ensure that employees are supported risk discrimination claims, so these standards may assist organisations to ensure they are doing everything they can to support employees.
If you have any questions on the BSI standards or would like advice on implementing them in your organisation, please contact our experienced PRM team.