Skip to main content

New BSI standard for employers wanting to support menstruating and menopausal staff

The British Standards Institute has published a new standard to help employers manage menopause and menstrual health problems of their staff. 

It highlights the importance of creating a workplace culture where menstrual health and peri/menopause are openly discussed (something my colleague Jenny Arrowsmith and I have been banging on about for several years). It also examines employers legal duties. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, every employer has a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its staff. This means positively protecting employees, where reasonably practicable, from foreseeable risks that arise out of, or in connection with, their work. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 also require employers to conduct individual risk assessments and put arrangements in place to protect individuals who have a particular condition/s, or symptoms which could expose them to particular risks at work.

The guidance then identifies a number of issues you need to think about including:

1. Reviewing how and where staff work (referred to in the guidance as the 'physical aspects of work')

It provides examples of adjustments you can make to help staff manage their symptoms, such as providing:

  • quiet spaces for short-term recuperation
  • easy access to toilet and shower facilities
  • discreet places for women to change their clothes
  • free menstrual products
  • access to cool drinking water and warm beverages
  • uniforms in larger sizes and in breathable fabrics that are easy to wash and dry

2. Reviewing policy guidance and practice

Employers will need to adopt a fair and consistent approach. It recommends that you review and cross reference all relevant policies to ensure that your staff have clear and consistent guidelines. This will also help line managers and supervisors to have productive and open discussions about menstrual health and menopause. 

Your approach to menstrual and peri/menopausal health should fit with your other  wellbeing and health strategies, policies, and procedures. You'll also need to effectively communicate your approach to everyone in your organisation, train managers and signpost where they can find additional information, and consult with interested stakeholders before making significant changes. 

3. Creating a supportive workplace culture

The guidance acknowledges that employers need to do more than put in place policies if it wants to effectively counter the social and workplace stigma surrounding menstruation and peri/menopause. Cultivating a healthy workplace culture that values diversity, equality, and inclusivity is crucial for making positive change. This includes celebrating diverse experiences and openly challenging cultural prejudice and stigma that can negatively impact or undermine the value and contribution of employees. It makes the important point that line managers and colleagues need to avoid 'shaming, bullying, blaming, joking, dismissing, problematising, disbelieving, or pathologizing menstrual or peri/menopause experiences' in the workplace. 

It recommends that you take the following steps: 

  • decide who is responsible and accountable for supporting employees through menstruation and menopause
  • give employees access to resources and education on self-help and practical actions they can take to alleviate symptoms
  • introduce menstruation and menopause advocates who can raise awareness of how symptoms can affect employees
  • schedule regular confidential check-ins with affected staff
  • provide adequate training and resources for line managers and supervisors
  • set up informal support groups
  • improve awareness of potential health disparities.

4. Improving 'work design'

Work design refers to the process of creating and organising tasks, responsibilities, and roles within a job or organisation. It involves determining the most efficient and effective way to complete tasks and achieve goals, while also considering the needs and abilities of employees. 

The standard highlights how the design of work can affect an employee's engagement, motivation, and physical and mental health, including menstrual and menopause experiences. It recommends that you:

  • find ways for employees to take time out during the day to rest and recuperate
  • offer flexible start and finish times
  • consult employees on their preferences
  • develop line management guidance to help them to assess the demands of the job when making decisions about flexible working.

5. Understanding that different women will have different experiences of menstruation and menopause

You need to acknowledge that no-one's experience will be identical to another person's and to ensure that your workforce (and particularly your line managers) appreciate that too. 

The guidance also says that's important to recognise that people with different characteristics may experience menstrual health or peri/menopause differently. It mentions race and ethnicity, disability, people with different thinking styles/neurodivergence, socio-economic status, job roles and pay levels. For example, it points out that freelance workers and those on zero hours contracts might be hesitant about speaking out about their difficulties out of fear that they won't be offered anymore work. 

It also suggests that employers use gender-neutral language to reflect the fact that these issues impact people who identify as non-binary or are trans gender. It suggests that trans men may be particularly vulnerable to being 'outed' or having to out themselves as trans when they menstruate or go though the menopause. 

We can help

Many organisations recognise they need to support menopausal women in order to retain their skills and experience. But, there's much less awareness about the impact periods can have on women for much of their working lives. There's still a lot of stigma around that issue and that needs to change. 

Our partner, Jenny Arrowsmith regularly helps organisations support menstruating and menopausal women and is an expert in this area. Please get in touch if you'd like details of the training she can offer or need specific advice on these issues.

Our newsletters

We publish monthly employment newsletters. If you'd like to be added to the mailing list, please let me know. 

Our fixed price employment law service

We also have a fixed price employment law service. Please contact Gordon Rodham if you'd like to find out how we can help you avoid these sorts of problems with our fixed-fee annual retainer, or flexible discounted bank of hours service.

It is also important to recognize that peri/menopausal symptoms can coincide with significant mid-life challenges and responsibilities, and research has shown that stress and symptoms of peri/menopause are inextricably linked. For example, maintaining job performance might be difficult when employees are also dealing with stressors such as a combination of existing health conditions; fertility issues; managing childcare and care for older parents; worrying about children leaving home; financial constraints; relationship breakdown or other stressful life events. When there is a lack of
knowledge within the organization of how to support employees through these stressors, as well as with the symptoms of menstruation, menstrual health conditions and peri/menopause, this can lead to issues such as presenteeism, absenteeism, disengagement and additional/increased turnover costs.”