The symptoms of it can be – in certain circumstances – according to a recent Glasgow employment tribunal.

Ms Davies, a court officer for the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS), had been suffering from extensive medical problems related to the menopause. She was prescribed medication which required to be dissolved in water. On one occasion, after returning to the court, she noticed that a water jug on her table had been emptied. She could not remember if this contained her medication, and became concerned that two male colleagues were drinking her water so she informed the men of this; one of whom “launched into a rant” as a result.

A health and safety investigation was launched and it was later determined that the water didn’t contain the medication. Nevertheless, Ms Davies was dismissed for gross misconduct as a result of this incident, the SCTS stating that she knowingly misled the two men and had failed to follow their “values and behaviours”!

The tribunal found that she had been unfairly dismissed, and her dismissal was because of something arising in consequence of her disability. She was awarded £19,000, £5,000 of which was for injury to feelings for disability discrimination, and was also given her job back (which is very unusual but appropriate in this case).

Peter Stanway, our BackupHR™ legal expert comments:

It is important to note that this case does not confirm that menopause will automatically be classed as a disability; it depends on how it affects the individual woman at that stage in her life. Therefore, this type of condition will be judged by the effect of the individual’s symptoms. We were predicting three years ago that the menopause may well be classified as a disability, and this decision confirms our thoughts. We are aware that it is only a tribunal decision and has no legal weight, but would expect other tribunals to come to the same conclusions depending on the symptoms and facts. The menopause does not of itself amount to a disability, but the physiological or physical consequences of going through it can do for those women who suffer significant health problem as a consequence. To meet the definition in the Equality Act, the symptoms must have a ‘substantial and long-term adverse effect on the ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’.

What does this mean for employers?

Before making a decision with regards to an individual’s employment, it is important to take all aspects of the individual’s current state into account. It is clear that Ms Davies was suffering from severe symptoms of menopause and this should have been taken into account by SCTS, before dismissing her for gross misconduct.

Outside of a disciplinary scenario; employers should take reasonable steps to support affected employees in coping with their condition.

Building awareness of the condition, considering practices and creating healthy environments for workers can only be a plus point. The menopause 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. Whilst many women will have only minor discomfort in some cases reasonable adjustments are necessary which need not be costly or complicated. Employers can help by communicating to their workforce that health-related problems such as the menopause are ‘normal’.

Possible actions:

There are no universal easy solutions but some simple cheap actions may help:

  • increased flexibility of working hours and working arrangements
  • relocation of desks closer to opening windows and or control over heating
  • plentiful supplies of cold water; and more frequent toilet breaks
  • rethinking of uniforms specifically avoiding nylon
  • good and honest communication between the manager and the employee

Improvements in workplace arrangements should therefore become accepted and normal.

The guidance provided in this article is just that – guidance. Before taking any action make sure that you know what you are doing, or call us for a free initial chat on 01480 677980.