Employers should take heed of a recent employment tribunal ruling in favour of a woman who left her job due to her employer failing to make reasonable adjustments for her menopause symptoms, says an HR expert.
An HR expert has called on employers to be more alert to the risks associated with not making reasonable adjustments for women who suffer from severe menopause symptoms.
The call came after Direct Line was ordered to pay almost £65,000 for failing to make reasonable adjustments for a former employee affected by menopause symptoms.
Maxine Lynskey worked at Direct Line as a telesales consultant from 2016 until her resignation in May 2022 when she brought claims for constructive unfair dismissal, sex discrimination, age discrimination and failure to make reasonable adjustments due to a disability under the Equality Act. The first claims were not upheld, but the claim under the Equality Act was.
Lynskey argued that she was held to ‘normal’ performance standards despite suffering from menopause symptoms. Although Direct Line had moved her to a role with fewer targets and complaints, her pay was cut. She faced criticism over her performance and absence levels and had her pay docked. She was also turned down for refresher training recommended by an occupational health report.
The tribunal ruled that eight different adjustments could have been made to support Lynskey in her original role.
Recent government data shows a rising trend in the number of employment tribunal cases in the UK citing menopause as a contributing factor, although that number is still small, according to law firm Irwin Mitchell.
There have also been calls for menopause to be considered a protected characteristic under the Equality Act. Their argument is that menopause discrimination is potentially a more prevalent problem than pregnancy discrimination, which is protected, given all women will experience it. Recent studies show many women have left the workforce due to menopause problems. A BUPA study, for instance, showed up to 900,000 women have left their job over an unspecified period because of menopausal symptoms. The Government has rejected the calls so far, saying that there is sufficient protection under age or sex discrimination or under disability legislation.
Kate Palmer, Associate Director of HR Advisory and consultancy, said: “Whilst menopause is not a protected characteristic in its own right, this case is a useful reminder for employers that a tribunal could find that the effect of the menopause satisfies the definition of a disability under the Equality Act 2010. The claimant was refused a pay rise and subjected to a disciplinary process because of alleged poor performance, however, there was a clear link with the claimant’s menopause symptoms which included ‘brain fog’, concentration issues and memory problems.
“The tribunal found that there was no consideration for the impact that the menopause was having on her performance and no adjustments were made to support her in the workplace. Employers should discuss circumstances on an individual basis with their employee and consider what reasonable adjustments can be made to both the workplace and to any processes or procedures where appropriate. These could include ensuring that there is fresh air or temperature-controlled spaces, comfortable desk seating, a private room or space with less distractions.”