30th August 2019
Employers are being advised to review their support for women experiencing problems in the workplace because of the menopause or risk compensation claims, following an employment tribunal ruling.
A female employee with an unblemished 20 year service record was dismissed by her employer, the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS), following an incident that led to a health and safety investigation and subsequent disciplinary action. The employee won her case against her employer on the grounds of discrimination after the tribunal ruled that the symptoms she was suffering as a result of the menopause amounted to a “disability” under the Equality Act 2010. The employee was awarded compensation of more than £19,000, as well as re-instatement of her job.
Although the judgement did not suggest that experiencing the menopause amounted to a disability in itself, the ruling does suggests that, in some cases, the symptoms of menopause may have physiological and physical consequences that meet the definition of disability under the Equality Act, having a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities.
The tribunal heard that the employee suffered significant medical problems as a result of going through the menopause, sometimes experiencing heavy bleeding for several weeks, accompanied with stress, memory loss, tiredness and at risk of fainting.
In the UK, the number of women at work in their fifties has risen steadily and the ruling is expected to drive further awareness of the topic, which until recently has been typically taboo for many employers.
In the past there has been a stigma around discussing issues to do with women’s health, similar to the taboo concerning mental health, but those boundaries are breaking down and employers are advised to address these issues.
Employers are required to understand that the impact for some women going through the menopause is the same as an employee who suffers from a long-term health condition, for which reasonable adjustments must be made. For example, employers may need to review working hours if an employee’s sleep is disturbed as a result of symptoms brought on by the menopause.
Employers should look to raise awareness within their organisation to ensure women feel able to raise problems, and to be sure that fellow employees understand how menopausal symptoms might affect their colleagues.
The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) requires employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all workers. In the case of women going through the menopause, this could include undertaking risk assessments to establish each individuals specific needs to ensure that the working environment does not exacerbate symptoms i.e. temperature conditions of the office, access to facilities etc.
The Equality Act (2010) prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex, whether directly, indirectly or by harassment. An example in the case of menopause could be where an employer does not consider symptoms arising from the menopause to be mitigating factors in reviewing performance, where similar symptoms arising through another medical condition would be taken into account for male workers.
For more information on your responsibilities as an employer or to discuss any issues you are facing at the moment please call our Employment Law Team on 01256 844888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
ACAS Guidance Notes (Updated October 2019)
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.
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