Menopausal symptoms may amount to a disability under the Equality Act

There is growing recognition and commentary in the media around the fact that going through menopause may cause some women considerable difficulties in terms of career development, with some even leaving the workplace altogether.

Employers are being encouraged to take a positive and proactive approach to support women through this stage of life, not least to help retain talent and maximise career potential.

It is also important for employers to be aware that women going through menopause may benefit from legal protection under equality legislation. In a recent case, the Employment Appeal Tribunal has overturned an earlier conclusion and held that a woman with menopausal symptoms did in fact have a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act (Rooney v Leicester City Council).

This does not mean that menopausal symptoms will amount to a disability in every case, it will depend on the circumstances. To meet the legal definition of having a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act, there must be a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long term impact on the employee’s ability to carry out normal activities.

A women being supported by her manager suffering from menopausal symptoms

In the case mentioned above, Ms Rooney worked as a child social worker. She explained how she had suffered “with physical, mental & psychological effects of the menopause for the last two years”. Her symptoms included lightheadedness, confusion, stress, depression, anxiety, palpitations, memory loss, migraines and hot flushes. Due to the way she was treated by management, including insensitive comments and adverse decisions on how sickness absences were dealt with, Ms Rooney decided that she had no choice but to leave what was a demanding position, before bringing Tribunal claims for both sex and disability discrimination.

If the legal definition of a disability is met, the protection for the employee is significantly greater, and therefore employers should be prepared to support women through any work-related issues caused by experiencing menopausal symptoms.

We recommend:

  •  Introducing a menopause policy, to address issues such as how absences related to menopausal symptoms will be addressed;
  • Encouraging a culture whereby female employees can speak to someone if they are struggling at work with menopausal symptoms, with confidence that the subject will be treated with sensitivity; and
  • Training for managers, to include the importance of considering whether any adjustments can be implemented to support women going through menopause.

If you would like further guidance on how to support women in your workplace, please contact our HR and Employment Lawyers using the form below.

We always recommend that you seek advice from a suitably qualified adviser before taking any action. The information in this article only serves as a guide and no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of this material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.


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