Menopause – Discrimination in the Workplace

By Rachel Davis

Principal Associate

The first Employment Tribunal considering discrimination directly due to menopause is due to start this week.

Maria Rooney resigned from her job as a Social Worker at Leicester City Council in October 2018, claiming she had received unfavourable treatment and been subjected to inappropriate comments as a result of suffering from menopause symptoms.  After informing her employer of her symptoms, which resulted in her taking periods of extended sick leave in 2017 and 2018, Ms Rooney received a formal warning.  She subsequently resigned from her role and brought claims of unfair constructive dismissal and harassment against the Council.

In February 2022, an Employment Appeal Tribunal concluded that Ms Rooney was disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010, by virtue of her symptoms of menopause, setting a legal precedent.

This follows the news of an Office Manager at Thistle Marine in Aberdeenshire, who has recently won her claims for unfair dismissal and harassment after resigning from her job following unfavourable treatment in connection with her menopause symptoms.  Karen Farquharson’s menopausal symptoms were dismissed as “aches and pains” and she was told by the Managing Director of the engineering firm to “just get on with it” leaving her with no option but to resign.    She was successful in her claims and awarded £37,000 in compensation.

Although menopause itself is not yet recognised as a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equality Act, employees can bring claims in the Employment Tribunal as a result of menopause by relying on other ‘protected characteristics’ such as sex, disability, age and gender reassignment.

The menopause can produce a number of debilitating symptoms including hot flushes, fatigue, headaches, palpitations, brain fog and sleeping difficulties.  In order to be recognised as a disability under law, a condition needs to be a ‘physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the individual’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’.  As everyone will suffer from menopause symptoms to a varying extent, the Employment Tribunal will consider whether the menopause meets the definition of a disability on a case by case basis.

Menopause issues in the workplace can create a significant litigation and reputational risk to employers.  Compensation for discrimination is uncapped meaning financial awards in successful cases can be significant.

It is important that employers gain a better understanding of the menopause and how it can affect women in order to support employees and deal with issues sensitively and fairly.

For further advice on how best to support your staff going through menopause, or if you require assistance in training managers or introducing a menopause policy, please contact our specialist team of Employment Lawyers on 0345 646 0406 or fill in our online enquiry form and a member of our Team will be very happy to assist.