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Menopause and the workplace

View profile for Kate Johnson
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Since the turn of the century there has been a growing number of females over the age of 50 in the workplace. In recent years however there has also been a sharp increase in Employment Tribunal cases related to menopause. 

Menopause is part of the ageing process, but recent Tribunal cases have highlighted a general lack of awareness amongst employers of its symptoms and effects. This has led to women leaving the workplace alleging that they have experienced a lack of support, as well as discrimination and harassment.

This has become a key issue for UK employers and was recognised by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee which, earlier this year, launched an inquiry into workplace issues surrounding menopause. We await the findings, which may even result in recommendation for a change to the law.

To maintain an engaged workforce and avoid Employment Tribunal claims employers should make sure they are aware of how the menopause relates to the law. The Equality Act 2010 protects workers against discrimination and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, states that employers must, where reasonably practical, ensure everyone's health, safety and welfare at work.

The menopause is not a specific protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, but if an employee or worker is treated less favourably or put at a disadvantage because of their menopause symptoms, this could be discrimination if related to a protected characteristic, such as age, disability, gender reassignment or sex.
 

So what can employers do to assist staff affected by Menopause? 
They should make sure they have procedures, policies and support in place to help staff affected by the menopause. The starting point is to educate managers to recognise the issues and have robust procedures in place. Having conversations with staff and listening to their concerns can also help resolve issues early on and avoid legal action.

If you would like specific advice on menopause related employment issues, contact me on 01827 317070 or email Kjohnson@pickerings-solicitors.com.
 

The recent cases shown below illustrate menopause related issues which led to Tribunal cases and the outcomes

Donnachie v Telent Technology Services Ltd  2020
In this case Ms Donnachie had found that her menopausal symptoms had become “intrusive and disruptive”. The employment tribunal (ET) was asked to determine whether the effect of Donnachie’s menopausal symptoms on her “normal day-to-day activities was substantial,” in order to meet the definition of disability under the Equality Act.
The Tribunal held that Ms Donnachie was disabled by reason of menopause or symptoms of menopause, stating:
“I see no reason why, in principle, ‘typical’ menopausal symptoms cannot have the relevant disabling effect on an individual. … I have little hesitation in concluding that the effect of her menopausal impairment on her day-to-day activities is more than minor or trivial. The range of her daily activities and her ability to undertake them when she would wish with the rhythm and frequency she once did is markedly affected”.
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5f60c524e90e072bb92c65a8/Miss_J_Donnachie_v_Telent_Technology_Service_Ltd_Judgement_1300005_2020.pdf
 

Rooney v Leicester City Council 2020
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) addressed the question of whether typical menopausal symptoms may amount to a disability under the Equality Act.
Ms Rooney brought a number of claims against her employer, including a claim for disability discrimination. She argued that her “severe” menopausal symptoms constituted a disability and that she received no management support. For example, when she mentioned to a male manager that she was suffering from hot flushes, he replied that “he also gets hot in the office” and dismissed the fact that it was a menopausal symptom.
The ET held that Ms Rooney was not suffering from a disability as a result of her menopause symptoms and her disability discrimination claim was dismissed.
Ms Rooney appealed this decision. The EAT held that the ET had “erred in law in holding that she was not a disabled person at the relevant time”.
The EAT found it difficult to understand how the ET had arrived at the conclusion that Ms Rooney was not disabled, when the ET had not expressly contested the evidence about Ms Rooney’s symptoms:
“There is no explanation as to how the Tribunal concluded that this evidence, which it did not reject, did not demonstrate an effect on day-to-day activities that was more than minor or trivial.”
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/615eea73e90e07198108146c/Ms_M_Rooney_v_Leicester_City_Council_EA-000070-DA__Previously_UKEAT_0064_20_DA__EA-2021-000256-DA_Previously_UKEAT_0104_21_DA_.pdf

https://committees.parliament.uk/work/1416/menopause-and-the-workplace/

Menopause and the law: Menopause at work - Acas