A woman who claims to have suffered workplace discrimination due to menopause symptoms is set to have her case heard by an employment tribunal this week.
Maria Rooney, aged 52, will become the first individual to bring forward such a case under the Equality Act.
Supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Ms. Rooney alleges that she faced discrimination, harassment, and victimisation from her employer, Leicester City Council, due to her struggles with menopause symptoms, anxiety, and depression during extended sickness leaves in 2017 and 2018.
Despite disclosing her symptoms, she received a formal warning over her absences and ultimately resigned from her position in October 2018, citing unfavorable treatment and inappropriate comments as the reasons for her departure.
The case, set to span 16 days, will be heard at a Leicester employment tribunal starting today, focusing on claims that Ms. Rooney was discriminated against on the grounds of disability and sex. It marks the first instance where menopause symptoms have been considered a disability under the Equality Act, according to the EHRC.
What are the details of the case?
Ms. Rooney, a dedicated children’s social worker with 12 years of service at Leicester City Council, expressed her feelings of abandonment and betrayal during her ordeal. She said, “I felt let down and betrayed after working there for so long, and I felt they had no compassion and understanding and awareness of the menopause.”
Despite having an occupational health report in her previous role that documented work-related stress and anxiety, as well as a health and well-being passport for perimenopause, Ms. Rooney faced an uphill battle when trying to appeal her manager’s decision regarding her sick leave.
“I am very grateful that the EHRC is supporting my case now, and hopefully my case will help other people who may be being discriminated against, harassed, or victimised in their workplaces,” she added.
Mood changes, anxiety, and more…
Menopause symptoms, as per the NHS website, encompass a wide range of physical and psychological challenges, including mood changes, anxiety, memory issues, headaches, palpitations, skin changes, and sleeping difficulties.
The EHRC emphasised the importance of employers supporting workers affected by menopause and possibly having a duty to make reasonable adjustments where symptoms are significant and may constitute a disability.
Ms. Rooney lodged her claims with the employment tribunal against the council in January 2019, with a significant development in February 2022 when the tribunal ruled that she had been disabled during the relevant periods due to her menopause symptoms combined with stress and anxiety. This landmark decision set a legal precedent.
Baroness Kishwer Falkner, chairwoman of the EHRC, stressed the importance of employers addressing menopause-related challenges, saying, “Employers have a responsibility to support employees going through the menopause – it is to their benefit to do so, and the benefit of the wider workforce. Every employer should take note of this hearing.”
She also announced that the EHRC would soon release new guidance for employers to ensure proper support for employees experiencing menopause, encouraging all employers to make use of these resources.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.