An increasing number of women have started to bring legal action against employers over menopause-related discrimination, figures from the UK’s HM Courts and Tribunals Service highlight.
In the UK, employment tribunals focussed on menopause have started to abound in recent years. From being cited in one-in-five in the latter nine months of 2018, that number has doubled in the first half of 2021. While still relatively uncommon compared to other citations, the recent upwards trend shows their occurrence may start to soar in the coming years.
Speaking to i news, Lynda Bailey, co-founder of Talking Menopause, knows all too well the negative treatment and consequences that can happen in the workplace. Talking Menopause is an organisation that assists workplaces to elevate the awareness of menopause with its staff. Ms Bailey said that people going through menopause at work had experienced “a bad deal” up until recently.
Ms Bailey continued, “Nobody wants to give this up due to their hormones. This is why we are seeing an increase in employment tribunals – confidence and indignation knowing that you have been treated unfairly due to a natural life health event over which at times you have little control.”
Maria Rooney, 50, had worked hard to get where she was at work. Being a childcare social worker employed by Leicester City Council was important to her. She recently brought a claim forward against her employer.
She conveyed that her menopausal symptoms, particularly those of anxiety and depression, triggered by work-related stress, were dismissed. She also argued that the menopausal symptoms she was trying to manage had a significant and prolonged negative effect on her capacity to execute her day-to-day tasks.
“I was a level-three social worker. I had some very complex cases which meant I had to be on the ball all the time.”
“I was forgetting to attend appointments and meetings. I’m usually a very confident person but I felt very anxious and low all the time. I’d try to do reports and I was getting brain fog, I couldn’t concentrate.”
Rooney went on sick leave, then followed a formal meeting with her manager about the possibility of returning to work. In that time she was never referred to or contacted by occupational health for support or guidance.
“My line manager issued me with a formal warning for being off sick. I said, ‘I’ve been working for this organisation for 12 years, I’ve hardly ever been off sick,’ and I appealed the warning.”
Ms Rooney added, “During the appeal hearing I walked into the room and it was me, a woman, in front of a panel of all men. There didn’t seem to be any understanding of the menopause.”
In October, Ms Rooney’s case contributed to legal history. It established the first ever ruling by the UK Employment Appeal Tribunal on the ability of typical menopausal symptoms to amount to a disability in relation to the purposes set out in the Equality Act.
A 2021 UK poll conducted by Newson Health Research and Education not-for-profit found that out of 3,800 woman, the majority believed menopause, including the months and years in the lead-up, had a significant impact on their careers, subjecting many to take time away from work or to completely leave their jobs.
The finding from Rooney’s Appeal Tribunal was that menopausal symptoms are to be treated seriously, akin to any various type of impairment, particularly in assessing a claim for disability discrimination. The case continues.
Following another tribunal case, Aggie Kownacka, a recruitment worker, was told that it was “no big deal” by her female boss that Ms Kownacka may be facing menopause at 37 and subsequently was not able to conceive children. The comments were found not to amount to discrimination but did amount to harassment, an employment judge ruled.
A claimant from central England was going through 12 hot flushes a day and waking eight times a night to and by sweats, and a judge ruled she was disabled by reason of menopause.
Not sitting idly by, Ms Rooney decided to create a menopause support group on Facebook, which now boasts more than 700 members. She continues to advocate and educate her friends and other women on the topic.
“I’m trying to say, ‘You know, you have got rights, and if you do feel discriminated against in the workplace, you have to do something about it and speak up.’”
She sees that the increase in tribunal cases linked to menopause has been “a long time coming. People are talking about it more, whereas they never used to. I felt that nobody was listening to me.”
Ms Rooney added, “And I didn’t get any support whatsoever from anybody. In the end, you know, I had to give up a job that I loved. And it shouldn’t have had to be like that.”