Endometriosis in the workplace is a very serious and sensitive issue which costs the Australian economy an estimated 9.7 billion dollars each year.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis Australia describes endometriosis as “a common disease where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows outside it in other parts of the body.
More than 830,000 (more than 11%) of Australian women, girls, and those who are gender diverse suffer from endometriosis at some point in their life with the disease often starting in teenagers.”
It’s extremely important to acknowledge and understand the symptoms are wide-ranging. While many people who suffer with endotrmiosis will be able to self-manage, a minority with severe symptoms may require workplace modifications.
What employers can do
From a WHS perspective, although endometriosis is a non-work-related condition, it is important for organisations to be aware that they have a duty of care to their employees who have existing illnesses or injuries, such as endometriosis.
SafeWork Australia states employers have a requirement “to do what is reasonably practicable to provide a safe working environment to minimise harm, and prevent further injury”.
WHS laws state that employers also have a responsibility to manage WHS risks, provide early intervention to support recovery and make reasonable adjustments to ensure all employees can perform their job effectively.
|Primary workplace interventions
|Secondary workplace interventions
Build a supportive workplace culture
|Appoint a workplace “Endo Champion”
|Start a conversation
|Health and wellbeing programs
|Medical certificate for endometriosis
|Endo First Aid Kit
|Flexible working arrangements
|Stretches and postures during breaks (Endo exercise poster)
|Job and workplace modifications
|Endo awareness morning teas
|Policies and procedures
|Easy to access information and update to date research
Primary workplace interventions
- Build a supportive workplace culture – Train managers to be supportive and react appropriately to concerns raised by employees and to find ways of supporting employees to stay engaged, productive and comfortable at work.
- Start a conversation – If you are noticing a pattern of time off work each month, start a conversation – “I’ve noticed you’ve been needing to take some time off work – is there anything I might need to be aware?” or “How can I support you?”.
- Medical certificates – In many cases, the symptoms of endometriosis will be ongoing. When someone who is suffering from a chronic disease such as endo, they may require varying periods of leave from work. A recommendation is to accept an overarching medical certificate recognising their condition from their treating doctor and put in place a support plan with the assistance of their treating doctor to be able to manage their symptoms at work.
- Flexible work arrangements – This is the most valued work adjustment by Endo Warriors.
- Job modifications
- *regular 20 min rest breaks
- *pacing of tasks to avoid burn out
- * reducing workloads /- planning ahead for project timeframes / deadlines around flare up or monthly cycles
- modifications of work tasks should be in consultation with the employee
- reducing exposure to high stress situations
- providing greater support like putting instructions in writing
- modifying the work area, for example noise control, light / temperature adjustments
- changing the work location if suggested by the treating doctor
- Access to restroom facilities – consider this with employees who may work in the construction industry, traffic control or mining – providing portable, clean and safe toilets may be a solution
*workplace adjustments – can be implemented such as sit to stand desks, ergonomic chairs, anti-fatigue matting, heat packs – encourage frequent changes of posture
- Policies and procedures – Developing, implementing and promoting policies and procedures in relation to chronic diseases such as endometriosis, can assist in raising awareness and understanding of the disease.
Secondary workplace interventions
1. Appoint your own Endo Champion in the workplace – a ‘go to’ person for information, a support person, to assist with applications through HR for workplace adjustments, discussions with your Line Manager – and to provide a pathway for female staff to access confidential work support – Due to the gender-specific nature of these sensitive issues.
2. Health and wellbeing programs and education in the workplace – including access to allied health interventions such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), mindfulness coaching, breathing techniques, pain education, healthy lifestyle education – diet, sleep, minimising stress, and exercise programs (EP).
3. Endo first aid kit – Equipment for assisting endo flare ups in the workplace
4. Stretches and postures
Regular exercise can have a positive effect against diseases that involve inflammatory processes such as endometriosis, it helps to reduce estrogen levels, improves emotional wellbeing, energy levels, motivation and self-confidence, quality of sleep and work productivity (Exercise Right – Endometriosis 2022)
5. Endo awareness morning teas – March is endo awareness month. In March 2022, Recover Partners held a ‘Wear Yellow for Endometriosis Team Day’. The colour yellow is a symbolism of endometriosis in Australia.
6. Develop a tool kit of resources to display with easy access around the office, lunchrooms, restroom facilities, distribute to staff.
What employees with endometriosis can do
- Start a conversation
Employees are not required to disclose information about a medical condition to their manager or supervisor if their condition does not affect how they do their job, but it is encouraged.
Under WHS laws employees have a duty to take reasonable care of your health and safety and not adversely affect the health and safety of others. So, you should consider whether your symptoms, or the medications you are using to treat the symptoms, are affecting your ability to work safely or could impact on the safety of others.
For example, consider whether:
your pain or other symptoms are causing you to become distracted or distressed
your pain is stopping you from performing your work in a safe way, or
your fatigue is affecting you in a way that could be harmful to others or yourself.
Although it is a sensitive topic, explaining endometriosis, your symptoms, and how they affect your work life will help your Manager to better sympathise with your situation and to be able to put supports in place to assist you.
- Where possible, arrange medical appointments outside of work hours.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle, physically and mentally
Endometriosis does affect many aspects of life. Where possible, employees can ensure they are maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including reaching recommended guidelines for exercise, engaging in services provided for employee assistance programs and accessing health professionals.
How Recovery Partners can help
Recovery Partners’ mission is to reduce the human and financial impact of endometriosis in the workplace, as well as secondary mental health conditions.
We recognise the health benefits of good work.
Our initiative, Yellow Partners, ‘More than “Women’s Issues” in the Workplace’ through SafeWork SA will aim to deliver a series of information sessions to educate and support South Australia and National organisation who are interested in promoting further endo awareness in their workforce.
Recovery Partners have put together an Endo Wellness and First Aid Kit with useful items for management of flare ups in the workplace, including hot water bottles, wheat bags, trigger therapy balls, yoga mat and many other items.
Contact us to learn more about our Endometriosis Workshops.
Disclaimer – these articles are provided to supply general safety information to people responsible for OHS in their organisation. They are general in nature and do not substitute for legal and/or professional advice. We always suggest that organisations obtain information specific to their needs. Additional information can be found at https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/
Cupid’s Workplace Emergency Prep Guide5 February 2024
Australia’s First-Ever Amusement Devices Code of Practice 20232 February 2024
The Gender Pain Gap: New Inquiry into Women’s Pain31 January 2024
Danger Tags: What You Need To Know17 January 2024
State Services for First Nations People