Alerts

Can the menopause amount to a disability?

Following World Menopause Day on 18 October 2021, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) delivered a well-timed judgment concerning an employee’s menopausal symptoms in Ms M Rooney v Leicester City Council.

In its assessment of whether menopausal symptoms amounted to a disability, an Employment Tribunal ruled that Ms Rooney was not a disabled person.
Ms Rooney appealed. Was she successful?

Facts
Ms Rooney worked for Leicester City Council as a childcare social worker from September 2006. She started having menopausal symptoms in 2017 and subsequently went on sick leave in December 2017. She claimed that her employer’s management of her sickness absence was oppressive and lacked empathy and she eventually resigned in October 2018. Ms Rooney brought a number of different claims, including a claim for disability discrimination.

At a preliminary hearing, the Tribunal considered, among other questions, whether Ms Rooney was disabled based on her menopausal symptoms. Ms Rooney’s symptoms included insomnia (causing fatigue & tiredness), light headedness, confusion, stress, depression, anxiety, palpitations, memory loss, migraines and hot flushes. Ms Rooney was prescribed hormone replacement therapy and referred to a specialist Menopause Clinic. The Tribunal struck out Ms Rooney’s claims for disability discrimination on the basis that her menopausal symptoms did not amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

Ms Rooney appealed against this decision and other matters to the EAT.

EAT Decision

The EAT ruled that the Tribunal had made an error in finding that Ms Rooney was not disabled. The EAT found that the Tribunal had used the wrong test to assess Ms Rooney’s symptoms and had focussed on what she could do (she was providing care to her immediate family and her mother) rather than assessing whether her symptoms were having a substantial adverse effect on her ability to carry out day to day activities. The EAT pointed out that “many people, including those with disabilities, have caring responsibilities.”

The EAT allowed Ms Rooney’s appeal on this and other points and her case will now be reconsidered in the Employment Tribunal.

Comment

Whilst each case will be assessed on its own facts, this decision is significant as it recognises at appellate level that menopausal symptoms may amount to a disability withing the meaning of the Equality Act 2010.

There has been a sharp rise in Employment Tribunal claims recently which have referenced the menopause, so it is important that employers are aware of the risks of not taking menopausal symptoms seriously. Employers should provide training to managers and staff on the menopause and how it can affect their colleagues, so they are able to deal appropriately with anyone suffering symptoms.

Need further assistance?

For more information on symptoms of the menopause, the importance of employers raising awareness and how they can do so, see our Alert released on World Menopause Day 2021.
If you require training for staff or have any queries in relation to dealing with employees with menopausal symptoms, updating existing policies and procedures to raise awareness of the menopause or implementing a specific menopause policy or have any other Employment Law or HR queries, please do not hesitate to contact our Employment team on 01228 552600 or 01524 548494.

This alert does not provide a full statement of the law and readers are advised to take legal advice before taking any action based on the information contained herein.

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