Menopause and perimenopause: what are your legal rights at work?

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It’s been hard to put your fingers to the keyboard on this. Simply because it’s not something I will ever experience. It is a condition where there is a complete lack of understanding – especially among men. I was one of them.

That’s part of the reason I want to write about it. I hope this will help in some way to break down the barriers.

I was also inspired by the work that my colleague Lisa Guscott has undertaken in my practice and elsewhere to break down the stigma and get people talking about it at home and at work.

The condition I am referring to is menopause. A fact of life that many of our loved ones will experience.

READ MORE: A menopause bill of rights could spark a complete culture shift

The impact that menopause can have on working women is enormous. Studies have shown that more than a million women with menopausal symptoms are pressured to quit their jobs because they don’t get the support they need. A 2019 study by BUPA estimated that nearly one million women have already quit their jobs.

Another survey conducted in 2019 by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that three out of five postmenopausal women aged 45 to 55 were negatively affected at work.

Of course, many of the women in this age group will be ready to take on leadership positions in their workplace. The negative impact that menopause can therefore have on the advancement of women’s careers and therefore the diversity of corporate boards is enormous.

In July 2021, the House of Commons Women’s and Equality Committee launched an inquiry titled “An Invisible Cohort: Why Are Workplaces Failing Women in Menopause?”.

The purpose of the survey is to address the nature and extent of discrimination that postmenopausal women face in the workplace and what its impact is. It will also examine, in addition to several other issues, whether legislation needs to be changed to ensure that women are adequately protected in the workplace.

The Equality Act 2010 protects workers against discrimination in the workplace. The law currently has nine protected characteristics, including age, gender and disability. In addition, the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1974 provides that an employer must, as far as possible, ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees at work.

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Menopause is not specifically protected by equality law. However, if a woman feels she is being treated less favorably because of her perimenopause (the transitional phase that may occur before menopause) or symptoms of menopause, this could be discrimination if it is related to one of the protected characteristics existing ones that I mentioned above.

Over the past few years, there have been a number of labor court (ET) complaints relating to menopause. In the case of Donnachie v Telent Technology Services Ltd [2020] the court found that Donnachie’s menopausal symptoms had become so intrusive that she met the definition of disability under the Equality Act.

You are considered disabled under the Act if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a “substantial” and “long-term” impact on your normal daily activities.

The judge in the Donnachie case said, “I see no reason why, in principle, the ‘typical’ symptoms of menopause cannot have the relevant disabling effect on an individual.”

Another case that will have a significant impact on menopause claims is that of Rooney v Leicester City Council [2021]. Rooney’s disability discrimination claim failed at first instance; however, his appeal to the Labor Appeal Tribunal (EAT) was successful.

The EAT cut off in its criticism of the trial judgement, saying there was no explanation for how the ET concluded that the symptoms Rooney experienced did not significantly impact his activities. daily.

In the recent case of Best v Embark for Raw on Law Ltd, an employee won her complaint of harassment based on age and gender related to menopause. Her claim related to comments made by her manager, which included her asking if she was postmenopausal.

The judgments above are important for women going through menopause. But female lawyers who testified before the Women and Equalities Committee recommended changing the law to make menopause a protected characteristic.

They argued that by making the law clearer, it would give women suffering from symptoms of perimenopause and menopause better protection against discrimination in the workplace.

This is obvious, in my opinion.

In the meantime, it would be wise for employers to educate themselves on this important subject so that they do not suffer the same fate as those in the aforementioned claims.

They should implement menopause policies and involve staff in their development. They should also undertake risk assessments to ensure they are protecting the health, safety and welfare of their staff.

Finally, for employers who want to go the extra mile, get menopause accreditation and show how committed you are to supporting women in the workplace.

Jonathan Williams is an attorney at Watkins and Gunn.

Disclaimer: This does not constitute legal advice. For more information, contact Watkins and Gunn at watkinsandgunn.co.uk

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