"I'm suffering menopause symptoms. Can my boss sack me?" - Paul Doran Law

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“I’m suffering menopause symptoms. Can my boss sack me?”

I'm off work with menopause symptoms. Can my boss sack me?I’m suffering menopause symptoms. Can my boss sack me?

There is an increasing number of women over 50 in the workplace. This means that more female employees are likely to go through the menopause and perimenopause while at work.

Various cases (described below) set the legal precedent that menopause symptoms can count as a disability and/or sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. As such, you’re protected against discrimination for the reason of menopause.

Defining menopause

The menopause is when menstruation stops. In fact, it should probably be called the meno-stop. It happens because female hormone levels drop around the age of 45 – 50 (although it can be earlier or later). Anyway, you don’t know it’s actually the menopause until you’ve been period-free for a year. Before that, you might experience symptoms known as the perimenopause.

Symptoms include anxiety, mood swings, brain fog, hot flushes and irregular periods, and can start years before your periods stop and carry on afterwards.

The equivalent in men is known as the andropause. When men reach their late 40s to early 50s, some develop depression and other physical and emotional symptoms.

Some women sail through the menopause, while others suffer serious symptoms that keep them off work. There have been various cases where menopause is cited. Here are some examples:

Case study 1

For 12 years, Maria Rooney was a children’s social worker at Leicester City Council.

In 2017, Maria started to suffer from perimenopause symptoms, including fatigue, sleep disturbances, anxiety, low mood, hot flushes, night sweats, brain fog and memory loss. At the end of that year, she went off sick due to work-related stress.

After returning, the council “failed to consider” the reasons for her absence and ignored an occupational health report which advised adjustments that would have helped her to continue working.

Instead, her employer gave Maria a formal warning related to her absences. They also made inappropriate comments about her menopause symptoms, to the extent that Maria felt bullied, harassed and intimidated by her managers. As a result of this unfavourable treatment, she decided she had no choice but to resign in October 2018.

In January 2019, she went to the Employment Tribunal claiming that she was discriminated against, harassed and victimised on the grounds of disability and sex.

Since then, she’s gone through several preliminary hearings and an appeal.

In February 2022, the Tribunal decided that Maria was disabled by her menopause symptoms combined with stress and anxiety

Her case is being heard in October 2023.

Case study 2

The first UK case involving menopause was in 2012. Here’s the story.

Ms Merchant worked at BT plc. She was experiencing difficult menopause symptoms that adversely affected her ability to work.

She had given her employer a GP’s letter confirming that her concentration was affected by menopause, and stating that she was suffering from stress due to being a carer for two members of her family.

After putting her through performance-management processes, her manager ignored the letter and failed to take further medical advice. Rather than going through the company’s Occupational Health processes (as would happen with male employees), Ms Merchant was dismissed for poor performance.

She made claims for unfair dismissal and and won her case for direct sex discrimination.

Case study 3

Ms Davies was a Court Officer in the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service. She had perimenopausal symptoms including memory loss, heavy bleeding, feeling “fuzzy” and emotional, and lacking concentration.

One day in 2017, she took her cystitis medication to work, intending to dilute it into the water jug on her desk so she could drink it during the day. She came back to find two men were drinking from a jug, thought it was hers, and panicked, telling them her medication may have been in the water.

One of the men accused her of “trying to poison the two old guys in the court” and asking if he would grow “boobs”.

She couldn’t remember if she had put her medication in the water or not. It turned out she would have known if she had, because it would have turned the water pink. Her employer considered that she’d lied and brought the court into disrepute. As a result of her forgetful and confused behaviour, Ms Davies was dismissed.

She successfully claimed unfair dismissal and discrimination arising from disability due to symptoms of perimenopause, and was awarded £14,009.84 for arrears of pay, and £5,000 for injury to feelings.

Case study 4

Ms A worked at Bonmarche Ltd. She’d been in retail for 37 years, and was seen as a high achiever until 2017 when she began to go through the menopause. Then:

Ms A took sick leave due to anxiety and depression, and suffered a breakdown in November 2018. When she returned to work, her manager was cold and threatening towards her. Ms A felt she had no other option than to resign.

In 2019, the tribunal upheld her claims for constructive unfair dismissal, sex discrimination, and age discrimination. She was awarded £10,000 compensation for loss of wages plus £18,000 for injury to feelings.

Case study 5

Ms Best worked as a sales assistant for Embark on Raw Ltd, a pet food business, from January 2019.

At the beginning of the Covid 19 pandemic, she was concerned that her employer was not complying with the official guidelines around social distancing and health and safety at work. When she challenged her boss about this, she was told she was being “paranoid”.

At the time, she was suffering menopausal symptoms and made it clear that she didn’t want to discuss it.

For example, when a customer described a ‘hot flush’, Ms Best put her hands over her ears and said, ‘I am having none of that, I don’t even want to hear about it’. Despite that, the shop owner continued to pursue the topic even after the customer had left the shop.

Also, when Ms Best continued to complain about the lack of Covid 19 measures, the shop owner asked her if she was menopausal.

In May 2020, she was dismissed because of her constant arguing and complaining, and for being rude and confrontational towards her colleagues.

She brought claims of whistleblowing, sex and age discrimination, and automatic unfair dismissal.

The Employment Tribunal found that her employer had:

She was awarded over £20,000 as compensation.

What this means to you

As these stories show, where menopause symptoms are significant, they may count as a disability.

If you are experiencing serious menopause symptoms, your employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments for you. For example, you might request extra ventilation or to move your working area closer to the toilets. In addition, they must not allow the work environment to become hostile towards you. For example, employees and workers mustn’t make offensive remarks or behave in a way that discriminates against you for being menopausal. Also, managers should be trained so they are familiar with the symptoms of menopause and can deal with any issues sensitively.

If menopause is impacting your attendance, performance and conduct at work, have a look at your staff handbook to see if there’s a section that describes your employer’s policy on menopause.

If your employer fails in their duty of care towards you, or even dismisses you for having menopausal symptoms, you could make a claim for age discrimination, sex discrimination, and/or disability discrimination.

We are employment lawyers who act for employees in dispute with their employers anywhere in the UK, so please give us a call. We can’t help with health-related questions, but we can help with legal matters.

Related reading

If you found this information useful, you might also like to read our related articles:

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