Menopause and employment law is becoming a hot topic. Women make up almost half of the UK workforce. Statistics from this organisation show that around 900,000 to 1,000,000 women have left their jobs because of the menopause. Menopause can vary; some women go through the menopause with very minimal impact on their daily life and other people experience symptoms, that can last many years, negatively impacting their performance and attendance at work.

If an employee or worker is disadvantaged and mistreated because of their menopause symptoms, this can be considered discrimination, which we have written about here.

A recent case that reached the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) about menopause and employment law depicts the challenges that menopausal people can face in the workplace. Mrs Rooney worked as a childcare social worker for Leicester City Council, a job she resigned from. She raised claims against the council including a claim for disability discrimination, relying on menopause as a disability under the Equality Act 2010. We’ve written about disability discrimination here.

Mrs Rooney pointed to symptoms included fatigue, insomnia, confusion, light-headedness, stress, anxiety, depression, memory loss, palpitations, joint pains, hot flushes and migraines. These symptoms made it difficult to cope physically and psychologically, requiring her to spend long durations in bed. She was under the care of a specialist menopause clinic, where she received hormone replacement therapy. She said that the council failed to take her menopause into account when making decisions about her employment, such as giving warnings for her sickness absence.

The original employment tribunal judge did not accept that she met the statutory definition of disabled, accepting that she had an impairment but not that it was long-standing, or that it had a substantial impact on her daily life.

However on appeal the EAT disagreed, deciding that the judge hadn’t taken account of the evidence that Mrs Rooney had given about her symptoms. The decision reminds us what we have known about menopause and employment law since a similar case in 2020: that although menopause itself isn’t a disability, if the symptoms persist longer than a year and have a substantial effect on day-to-day activities they may amount to a disability.

Claims relating to menopause may also be brought under the age and sex discrimination laws, although they are not straightforward claims. To minimise the risk of claims, employers should ensure they have procedures and support in place to help employees impacted by the menopause. Also, they should be aware of how the menopause relates to the law.

Case referred to: Rooney v. Leicester City Council, 2021

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