As we mark International Menopause Awareness Month, we are reaching out with a significant update that has emerged from a recent legal case in Leicester – M Rooney v Leicester City Council. This development means that it is essential to make sure Managers understand their responsibilities, and undertake good sickness absence workplace practices.
A social worker with Leicester City Council took extended sickness leave due to menopause symptoms, as well as anxiety and depression, between 2017 and 2018.
Despite disclosing her condition, she received a formal warning about her absences, and subsequently faced adverse comments and treatment related to her symptoms.
This treatment led Ms Rooney to resign in October 2018 and lodge claims against the Council in January 2019.
The first Employment Tribunal did not accept she was disabled; however, she appealed this decision and, after going backwards and forwards between the Courts, it was ruled in February 2022 that during the times relevant to her claims, Ms Rooney was “disabled” due to her menopause symptoms, combined with stress and anxiety.
Notably, this is the first significant legal decision stating that menopause symptoms can qualify as a disability under the Equality Act 2010, marking an important legal precedent.
Comments from The Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC):
The EHRC has backed this case.
Baroness Kishwer Falkner, EHRC Chair, stressed the importance of understanding the impact of menopause symptoms on an individual’s work capacity. She underscored that employers have a responsibility to support such employees, which will benefit both the employee and the wider team.
The full case has now been resubmitted back to an Employment Tribunal to hear this month as to whether Ms Rooney was discriminated against, harassed and victimised by Leicester City Council on the grounds of disability and sex.
In the wake of this decision, it is important that employers ensure they offer the necessary support to employees going through the menopause, and treat staff who are clearly having a difficult time in the same way as any other person with an underlying health condition, including making reasonable adjustments where practical.
Although ACAS suggest employers have a dedicated Menopause Policy, this is actually not necessary for SMEs providing there is a detailed Attendance Policy in place that already identifies the importance of dealing properly with any underlying health condition, which the menopause clearly is, as some of the symptoms can be fairly severe, and can last for quite a few years. A well written Attendance Policy, such as the one we provide to our clients, can prevent potential legal complications and foster a more inclusive and understanding work environment.
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 an expert for specific advice