Menopause and Equality

Claire Vane
December 20, 2018

I wrote some time ago about the extraordinary symptoms of the menopause; forgetfulness, terrible weariness, and tearfulness. Every single woman, at some point, will face the menopause and some at a remarkably young age.  

The mere mention of the subject causes embarrassment but now this has hit the tribunals, perhaps more notice will be taken.

We’re always great exponents of prevention being better than action in tribunal and it is certainly time that employers started to react with some sort of enlightenment, rather than embarrassment, criticism and condemnation. Some are well ahead of the game where other employers discriminate against particular groups without realising they are so doing.  

In the case of Merchant vs British BT PLC, an employee alleged that she had been discriminated against on the grounds of her gender as her employer, she believes, failed to deal with her menopause symptoms in the way that other medical conditions would have been dealt with. Ms Merchant had been underperforming and had been subject to the capability procedure. The employers were deciding whether to offer alternative employment or dismiss.  The employee provided a GP letter explaining that she was going through the menopause and the consequences on concentration.

The manager in question decided not to investigate the possible impact of the menopause and relied on his existing family knowledge.  

Ms Merchant was dismissed and brought claims for unfair dismissal and direct sex discrimination.  The Tribunal upheld Ms Merchant’s claims and pointed out that the manager would never have adopted this ‘bizarre and irrational approach’ with other non-female related conditions.  

The Tribunal went on to say that a man suffering from comparable symptoms from a medical condition (and in this case affecting concentration) with consequential performance issues, would have been treated differently and indeed the treatment was against the employers own policy.

A friend of mine ten years on now since the start of the menopause took early retirement only two years into it, because she found she could not sleep and did not want to take hormonal treatment. She is an expert on night time radio channels, but frequently says thank goodness I stopped; there is no way I could work. Other friends are convinced they are suffering from early dementia as the menopause often, though not in all cases, brings with it high levels of forgetfulness.

There is an interesting contradiction in that age is one of the protected characteristics under the equality act, and yet to some extent, and most often the menopause is age related.

This is not an issue of age but could be one of disability.  It is perhaps no coincidence that many of the people we see who are experiencing work related relationship issues are also going through the menopause, where often sensitivity is raised, and there is a lack of awareness within the organisation of what a deep effect psychologically and physically the menopause has. While we cannot discriminate positively or negatively on grounds of age we need to be aware far more than we have been of the enormity of the impact of the menopause.  This is why it is so important to compare a menopausal woman with a sick man in legal terms.

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Claire Vane

Claire is the Managing Director and Founder of Integrated Resources. She is passionate about releasing potential in individuals and organisations.

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