Working through the Menopause
Guest Blog by Joanna Adams, HR Consultant at Darwin Gray
Little is mentioned about the symptoms and stresses of menopause that can occur over many years and adversely impact on working women.
There can be both physical and psychological symptoms, which may interplay over a lengthy time span between peri-menopause and menopause itself. According to the TUC Cymru Toolkit entitled ‘Menopause in the Workplace’ 8 out of 10 women will experience noticeable symptoms, and almost half of those will find dealing with their symptoms difficult.
Employers should take reasonable steps to support affected employees in coping with their condition. Lack of insight and empathy could only serve to worsen the position. It is only in recent years that the ‘menopause issue’ has started to gain some traction in the workplace, with some employers now offering menopause policies and unions providing guidance and training on the subject. TUC Cymru has issued a 66-page toolkit with sample policies and risk assessments. Welsh Government and many larger corporations have recently circulated Menopause policies to their staff. Building awareness of the condition, considering practices and creating safe working environments for workers can only be a plus point.
The Equality Act allows a condition to be labelled as a disability if its symptoms have a long-term and substantial adverse effect on someone’s ability to carry out their normal day to day activities. Traditionally, women suffering from menopause symptoms have struggled to convince the Tribunals or their employers that they satisfy this definition. However, a recent disability discrimination case (Mandy Davies v The Scottish Courts and Tribunal Services, May 2018) has been heard where an employee’s menopause symptoms were categorised as a disability, in what is thought to be one of the first cases of its kind.
Mandy Davies, a clerk in the Scottish courts, was sacked for gross misconduct after a mix-up during a court hearing. She went on to win her case at the Employment Tribunal claiming that she had been discriminated against under the Equality Act on the grounds that the menopause symptoms rendered her disabled under the definition in the Act, and so her dismissal arose out her disability. Her symptoms were found to be sufficiently severe to satisfy the definition of disability, including memory loss, anxiety, severe anaemia and resulting fatigue, light-headedness and fainting. The Employment Tribunal accepted that these symptoms can give rise to a section 6 Equality Act disability, provided they have a long-term and substantial adverse effect on normal day-to day-activities. As a result, Ms Davies was awarded £19,000 in compensation for her dismissal.
In Wales we have almost equal numbers of women and men in the workforce. We also have an ageing workforce. It therefore stands to reason that the menopause and its symptoms should be on employers’ agendas in order to make the workplace a safe and understanding space for the women going through this phase of life. Menopause policies, risk assessments and in some cases reasonable adjustments should therefore become accepted and commonplace for employers.
If you would like more information on this or a related topic, please contact Darwin Gray’s Employment and HR team.