Menopause in the workplace: an employee’s guide
In a recent case, a woman sued her employer for menopause discrimination; a legal first. Maria Rooney, who was a social worker, claimed that her employer did not support her when she experienced menopausal symptoms, including anxiety, at work.
In this blog, our employment law solicitors look at this case in more detail and explain what an employee’s rights are when it comes to menopause.
Maria Rooney vs Leicester City Council
Maria Rooney was a social worker, employed by Leicester City Council. She started to experience anxiety and depression, common symptoms of menopause, and took long periods of extended sickness leave as a result.
Maria received a formal warning for her absence, despite sharing her symptoms with her employer. She appealed the warning, but it was not upheld. Eventually, she resigned, claiming that no one listened to her and she experienced “unfavourable treatment” and “inappropriate comments”.
What are menopause symptoms?
Menopause symptoms vary from person to person, and it can affect physical as well as mental health. However, the most common symptoms are:
- Hot flushes
- Weight gain
- Anxiety and depression
- Memory loss and brain fog
- Reduced concentration
It is no surprise that these symptoms can affect wellbeing and performance at work. In fact, according to research by Age UK, 59% of those who experience menopausal symptoms say it had a negative impact on their work.
What employment rights do I have if I’m going through the menopause?
Menopause is not a ‘protected characteristic’ under The Equality Act 2010, however, you are still protected from being discriminated against because of your age, sex and disability.
Severe menopausal symptoms could be classed as a disability. Under the Equality Act, you are likely to be considered disabled if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities; this includes your ability to undertake work. As such, your employer should consider making reasonable adjustments to accommodate you, and if they don’t, this could be classed as discrimination.
Likewise, your employer must not treat you less favourably than they would a male, e.g. if policies are difficult to adhere to because of your sex, they must reduce any negative impact this can have on you.
Companies and organisations are increasingly implementing menopause policies (or including a reference to menopause in existing policies) that outline their approach, what employees can expect from their employer during this time and how they will be supported if they experience menopausal symptoms.
If your employer is in breach of its own policy, it is sensible to consider the impact this has and seek legal advice.
Am I legally entitled to time off for menopause symptoms?
There is no specific law regarding allowing employees time off for menopause and/or the related symptoms. However, you may be signed off for menopause symptoms, e.g. anxiety or headaches. In this case, your employer’s sickness policy will apply.
It is a good idea to be honest with your employer about the symptoms you are experiencing, and how these impact your working day. It is normal to feel hesitant about doing this, especially if your employer has not been particularly vocal about menopause, e.g. sharing a policy or information internally. However, opening up the conversation is likely to not only help you, but your colleagues, too.
Your employer could also look to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate you. Again, there is no specific legal obligation on employers to make reasonable adjustments for employees experiencing menopause, but there is a general obligation under the Equality Act and the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 for employers to protect employees’ health, safety and welfare.
An example of a reasonable adjustment could be allowing you to work flexibly, e.g. from home or different hours.
Although employees do not currently have a legal right to time off specifically for menopause symptoms, this could change.
In 2022, the Women and Equalities Committee published a report with recommendations based on the impact of menopause, asking the UK Government to consider making menopause a protected characteristic and to pilot a menopause leave policy in England. The proposal was rejected by the Government, however, various committees and activists continue to campaign for change.
Can my employer dismiss me for long-term absence due to the menopause?
As with any other reason for sickness absence, your employer cannot dismiss you for this reason alone. However, ‘capability’ is a fair reason for dismissal and if an employee cannot do their job, it may be fair for an employer to dismiss the employee, even if they are disabled. Whether the employee is incapable or not is very fact-specific and dismissal should be a last resort.
If you believe that your employer has dismissed you because of long-term sickness absence due to menopause, you may be able to appeal if you feel that they have not considered things like reasonable adjustments, or they have not secured an occupational health report, and/or if they did not follow the proper and fair dismissal procedure. If your appeal is not successful, you may be able to start an unfair dismissal claim against them.
If you have left your job because you felt unsupported by your employer, you may be able to make a constructive dismissal claim. It is vital to seek legal advice as soon as possible; an experienced employment solicitor can advise you on whether you have grounds to start a claim and guide you on the next steps.
How can employers support employees who are going through the menopause?
One of the best ways that employers can support employees who are experiencing menopause symptoms is to educate themselves on menopause and provide a supportive environment for staff. This may also include providing training for staff, particularly managers, to create an organisation-wide understanding.
In addition to this, it is a good idea for employers and business owners to include menopause in their existing policies or to have a separate menopause policy.
How we can help
If you feel that you have been treated unfairly as a result of menopause symptoms, our specialist employment law solicitors may be able to help.