“Typical” menopausal symptoms amounted to a disability

In what is possibly the first decision of its kind, an employment tribunal has decided that an employee with range of common menopausal symptoms was entitled to the protection of the Equality Act as a disabled person.

We don’t have any information about the underlying dispute, because this decision was made at a preliminary hearing. The employer accepted that the claimant had an impairment which had a long term adverse effect on her ability to carry out day-to-day activities, but argued that this effect was not substantial.

The employment judge summarised the employer’s argument like this: 

“The thrust of the Respondent’s argument is that the Claimant suffers from “typical” menopausal symptoms and that, in the final analysis, she can undertake all relevant activities and therefore the impact is not substantial.”

However, after assessing the medical evidence and the claimant’s account of her symptoms and their effect, the employment judge disagreed:

“I see no reason why, in principle, ‘typical’ menopausal symptoms cannot have the relevant disabling effect on an individual. The descriptions of the potential impact of symptoms on day-to-day activities in the EHRC Code of Practice seems to me to be particularly relevant to the claimant’s situation. I have little hesitation in concluding that the effect of her menopausal impairment on her day-to-day activities is more than minor or trivial.”

Tribunal decisions are not binding, but this one serves as a reminder – should one be needed – of the risks employers run by trivialising the impact of menopausal symptoms in their workforce. It would appear from the stance taken by the respondents in this case that they did not fully appreciate how debilitating common menopausal symptoms can be, particularly the psychological ones.

In contrast to the position when I last wrote about this issue here, there are now a number of accessible resources for employers on the menopause. These include ACAS guidance and a new landing page created on the NHS employers website here.

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