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In recent years, menopausal issues have been gaining a greater profile in the media. As a result, there has been a greater understanding of the difficulties of living with menopause, the cost of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and the issues menopause can have on work life. Despite the positive steps forward, there is still an ongoing issue of staff suffering from menopausal issues feeling unsupported in the workplace. The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development reports that three in five of those surveyed between the ages of 45 and 55 who are experiencing menopausal symptoms said they have been negatively affected at work by menopause. The report also shows as many as 900,000 women have left work due to the symptoms of menopause.
It falls to employers to understand any challenges their employees may be going through because of menopause and accommodate and protect these employees from disability discrimination.
What Is Menopause?
Menopause is when your periods stop due to lower hormone levels. This usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55. Sometimes, menopause can happen earlier naturally, or for reasons such as surgery to remove the ovaries or the uterus. Additionally, certain cancer treatments like chemotherapy or genetic reasons can cause early menopause.
Perimenopause is when you have symptoms before your periods have stopped. You reach menopause when you have not had a period for 12 months.
Symptoms of Menopause
The first sign of perimenopause is usually (but not always) when there is a change from the normal patterns of your period. Symptoms can have a big impact on both your daily life and your work life. These symptoms can start months or years before your periods stop and include both physical and mental symptoms.
The common physical symptoms of menopause and perimenopause include:
- Hot flushes (sudden feelings of hot or cold in your face, neck, and chest which can make you dizzy)
- Difficulty sleeping, which can result in night sweats and make you feel tired and irritable during the day
- Palpitations, when your heartbeats suddenly become more noticeable
- Headaches and migraines that are worse than usual
- Muscle aches and joint paints
- Changed body shape and weight gain
- Skin changes including dry and itchy skin
- Reduced libido
- Vaginal dryness and pain, itching or discomfort during sex
- Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Changes to your mood, for example, low mood, anxiety, mood swings, and low self-esteem
- Problems with memory or concentration
Frequently Asked Questions
How long can symptoms last?
Symptoms can last anything from a few months to years and symptoms can change over time.
Some symptoms such as joint pain can carry on even after your period has stopped.
Is the Menopause a Disability?
Ms. Rooney’s Claim Against Leicester City Council
Ms. Rooney worked for Leicester City Council until her resignation in 2018. Initially, Ms. Rooney made a claim for constructive dismissal and unpaid holiday pay, overtime, and expenses. Her solicitor stated in her claim that Ms. Rooney had agreed that the menopausal issues she had suffered were not a disability under the Equality Act 2010. Later Ms. Rooney informed that this was pleaded without her knowledge, and she applied to the tribunal for this statement to be removed from the claim.
Ms. Rooney’s further claim is against sex discrimination, harassment, and victimisation regarding the Council’s treatment of her in relation to her menopausal symptoms. She stated the symptoms caused her to experience insomnia, anxiety, palpitations, memory loss, migraines, and hot flushes. These would interfere with her day-to-day activities. She would forget to attend events, meetings, and appointments. Additionally, she would lose personal possessions and forget to put the handbrake on her car and lock it. She would leave the iron on, and leave the house without locking the doors and windows. Ms. Rooney would also spend long periods in bed with fatigue, exhaustion, dizziness, incontinence, and joint pain. During her employment, she struggled to explain her symptoms in the presence of male colleagues.
At a preliminary hearing, the Tribunal found that Ms. Rooney was not disabled due to her menopausal symptoms. Ms. Rooney appealed this decision.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal’s Statement on Menopausal Issues Being a Disability
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) stated that the tribunal was wrong in ruling that Ms. Rooney was not disabled and had not considered the claim fully. The EAT noted that the tribunal did not fully assess how the symptoms affected her day-to-day life, and did not consider the meaning of “long-term” in the context of disability when Ms. Rooney had in fact been suffering from her symptoms for over a year. In addition, the tribunal did not provide an explanation for how they reached the conclusion that her physical symptoms did not have an impact on her day-to-day activities. Furthermore, EAT stated the tribunal focused wrongly on what Ms. Rooney could do (such as look after her family) instead of what Ms. Rooney could not do. Finally, EAT questioned why the tribunal reached their conclusion which was not consistent with Ms. Rooney’s evidence, despite them not rejecting the evidence.
As a result, the EAT remitted the case to a fresh tribunal to reconsider whether Ms. Rooney was disabled.
How the Tribunal Assesses Whether Menopausal Symptoms are a Disability
This case demonstrates the difficulty a person can have in establishing their menopausal symptoms and how they are a disability.
Unfortunately, there is not a clear answer for whether the tribunal will accept a specific case of menopausal symptoms as a disability as each case is assessed individually.
The Equality Act classes disablement as experiencing physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on day-to-day activities. To count as long-term the impairment usually must last at least 12 months.
When presenting a case of menopausal symptoms to the tribunal, they should consider the impact the impairment has on the claimant’s everyday life and how they carry out activities. Additionally, the tribunal should assess any evidence on the impact of the claimant’s symptoms such as medical evidence to determine how much impact the symptoms have on their life.
Experiencing Workplace Discrimination Due to Menopausal Symptoms
Menopause itself is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. However, if you are treated less favorably in the workplace because of menopausal symptoms, you can seek to claim discrimination on the basis of age, disability, gender reassignment, or sex.
Read more about making a workplace discrimination claim.
What Can Employers Do to Support Employees Suffering from Menopausal Symptoms?
For employers, menopause is a health and well-being concern for staff and needs to be handled sensitively.
Some steps employees can take to better support employees is by:
- Training all staff to better understand menopause and support and guidance to employees.
- Consider flexible working arrangements
- Consider changes to the working conditions such as better air conditioning or changes to staff uniforms.
- Regularly update needed menopause policies that outline relevant training and points of contact for employees to direct queries.
- Consider those with menopausal symptoms when working on a risk assessment.
- Create a positive and open environment between the employer and the person affected by menopausal symptoms.
- Agreeing to record absence because of menopause separately from other sickness absences.
Legal Advice and Support from Our Employment Law Solicitors
If you have any questions relating to menopausal symptoms our employment law solicitors can help you.
If you are suffering from menopausal symptoms and you believe your employer has discriminated against you or you have experienced an unfair dismissal, our team of employment law solicitors can help you.Get in touch