Can the menopause be a disability for employment rights purposes?
Yes it can, as a recent Tribunal decision has concluded.
In that case the claimant suffered from severe menopausal symptoms of anemia, tiredness, light headedness, and fainting, in addition to heavy bleeding. She was dismissed for an alleged act of gross misconduct: she returned to a room where she could see two men drinking from a water jug which she believed she had diluted some medicine into. She couldn’t remember whether she’d put the medicine in but immediately approached the men and told them that she thought her medicine might have been in the water. As it turned out, she was mistaken and she hadn’t actually diluted her medicine into that jug, however a health and safety report was produced which commented that “there can be no doubt that Mandy would have known that not to be true as the water jug was clear and had no taste. In addition Mandy showed no remorse for her actions and did not appear worried they had taken this medication”.
During the disciplinary process an occupational health report confirmed that the claimant was suffering from severe menopausal symptoms, however, the employer ignored these symptoms and failed to appreciate that a woman with the claimant’s menopausal condition could become easily confused and flustered.
They concluded that she had “knowingly misled” the men about her medicine being in the water and dismissed her. She’d been employed for 20 years with an otherwise exemplary record.
The Tribunal found that the claimant was disabled within the meaning of the Equality Act, and the failure of the employer to consider her circumstances was fatal to the dismissal being a fair one.
Whilst the symptoms of the menopause for this particular claimant were severe, not all women going through the menopause will be disabled. As with all medical conditions, employers should be mindful of the symptoms that each individual has, and the particular effect it has on them, rather than just looking at the label of the condition itself.