Can menopausal symptoms amount to a disability?

Under the Equality Act 2010, a person is viewed as disabled if they suffer from a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial ‘long term’ negative effect on their ability to carry out day to day activities.

A woman going through menopause is likely to suffer from symptoms such as depression, mood swings and sleep disturbances.

The level of symptoms differ, and in some cases some women will suffer more extreme symptoms. But do these amount to a disability? This was reviewed in the Employment Tribunal (ET) case of Davies v Scottish Courts & Tribunal Service.

In this case, the claimant worked as Court officer for over 20 years. She began to suffer substantial symptoms related to menopause, which included stress, anxiety, heart palpitations, memory loss and pins and needles in her hands and feet. As well as this, she experienced tiredness, light-headiness and was at risk of fainting. Despite this, she kept on working and was put on medication for a bout of cystitis.

Ms Davies stored the medication – which came in granules – that were to be dissolved in liquid – in a pencil case on her desk, adding her medication to her water jug throughout the day.

However, one day Ms Davies returned from an adjournment and discovered two men drinking water from her jug. She voiced her concerns to them; that they had been drinking her medication when an argument broke out with one of the men launching into a rant.

As part of the disciplinary process, an Occupational Health Report was obtained. Details within this report concluded that not only did Ms Davies’ condition lead to heavy bleeding, but she suffered from amnesia too and as a result was easily confused and forgetful. Her employers disregarded this report and argued that she had knowingly misled the men about her mediation in the water – and she was dismissed.

Employment Tribunal considerations

The ET established that the report and the employer’s knowledge on how extreme her symptoms were, clearly met the definition of disability. This was supported because her symptoms were a physical impairment which had a long-term adverse effect on her ability to carry out normal day to day activities. Her employment was reinstated, and her employers were forced to pay over £19,000 in damages.

Employer considerations

The decision in this case highlights the importance of employers making an effort to understand the extent in which any condition affects an employee’s ability to carry out day to day activities. While most women will only suffer from minor symptoms, it is important that employers recognise some will suffer more severely. All employers should be aware of the possibility of discrimination complaints being brought against them and ensure they take necessary action to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace.

How can Employment Law Services (ELS) help?

If you are an employer who requires assistance with any of the issues raised in this blog contact us today for your free consultation 0370 218 5662.