In a recent case, a social worker has seen a disability discrimination ruling overturned, after an Employment Tribunal Appeal concluded that the impact of her menopausal symptoms had been wrongly perceived.

Despite giving extensive evidence of impairment inside and outside of the workplace, an Employment Tribunal had decided that the social worker’s experiences were not sufficient for her to be considered disabled.

In this article, we explore the tribunal’s findings in closer detail, while questioning what employers can learn about the impact of menopausal symptoms in the workplace.

The case – Ms M Rooney v Leicester City Council

Ms Rooney had been a social worker at Leicester City Council for more than 10 years before submitting an Employment Tribunal claim for disability discrimination, while also resigning from her position.

Ms Rooney’s claim was submitted in response to the Council’s treatment of her when experiencing menopausal symptoms.

She told the tribunal that she had spent two years suffering from the physical, mental, and psychological effects of the menopause, along with many instances of severe peri-menopausal symptoms.

This included: insomnia (causing fatigue and tiredness), light-headedness, confusion, stress, depression, anxiety, palpitations, memory loss, migraines, and hot flushes.

Overall, these symptoms had a substantial negative impact on Ms Rooney’s personal and work life, as she struggled to cope both physically and mentally.

To reduce the pain, Ms Rooney had been prescribed hormone replacement therapy and was also under the care of a consultant at a specialist menopause clinic, all of which was ongoing while she worked at Leicester City Council.

When describing these symptoms as evidence for the tribunal, Ms Rooney highlighted the direct impact on her work life, stating that she had forgotten to attend events, meetings, and appointments as a result.

The impact on her personal life was also highlighted with numerous examples, including the loss of personal possessions, and forgetting to lock doors when leaving the house.

All of this was supported by the fact that Ms Rooney had spent prolonged periods in bed due to fatigue and exhaustion, alongside ongoing experiences of dizziness and joint pain.

What does the law say?

According to the Equality Act 2010, a person is disabled if they have a physical and mental impairment, and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

When using the term ‘substantial’, it means that the effect is ‘more than minor or trivial’.

With this in mind, it is surprising that the Employment Tribunal ruled that Ms Rooney was not disabled, after deciding to dismiss her claim for disability discrimination. This view was clearly shared by Ms Rooney, who responded by appealing to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

The appeal – Tribunal wrong to dismiss Ms Rooney’s claim

Following investigation, the Employment Appeal Tribunal overturned the original tribunal’s decision.

It was stated that the original tribunal had wrongly focused on what Ms Rooney was able to do (in terms of caring for her husband and mother), rather than what she was unable to do.

Therefore, the original tribunal was wrong to conclude that her menopausal symptoms did not have a substantial adverse effect on her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Although they had been wrong in their conclusion, there was no suggestion during the appeal that Ms Rooney’s evidence had not been accepted by the original tribunal.

Instead, it was stated that the original tribunal had failed to explain why these symptoms were having no more than a ‘minor or trivial effect’ on her daily activities.

What can employers learn from this?

Overall, Ms Rooney’s case demonstrates that all employers need to be mindful of the impact of menopausal symptoms on their employees.

This should involve consideration of whether a menopause policy has been put in place, while having a clear understanding of where this fits within diversity and inclusion provisions.

It should also be noted that legislative changes to protect menopausal women may be on the horizon, although this is dependent on the outcome of an inquiry by The Women and Equalities Committee, which is yet to be published.

If you would like to receive tailored advice on the impact of the menopause at work, or any other area of diversity and inclusion, call us today on 0345 076 2288 or ask a question below.