Is menopause a disability?
Counter-intuitive or obvious?
Can menopause, or rather its symptoms, be considered a form of disability at work?
On the one hand, it seems counter-intuitive: indeed menopause is a natural phenomenon that all women around the world have experienced since the dawn of time.
How can something that is common to the entire female population be a « disability »?
On the other hand, any woman confronted with severe or even moderate forms of menopause symptoms will be able to testify how much hot flashes, fatigue, concentration problems and other issues can make their daily and professional life difficult, with sometimes the materialization of concrete negative impacts. For some, talking about disability could then only be “obvious”.
And the taboo that menopause still carries today only reinforces the difficulties they have to face.
Recently the employment tribunals (ET) in the United Kingdom had to answer this question.
In October 2019 Mrs D. lodged a complaint against her employer with a series of claims which were qualified at a hearing in March 2020 as « discrimination on the grounds of sex and age »1.
The ET was also asked to rule on the question of whether the claims part of the registered complaint could by their nature be qualified as discrimination against a disabled person, in view of the thyroid problems of Mrs D. , but above all and more explicitly in view of the menopause symptoms from which she had been suffering.
In her statement, Mrs D, 51 years old 2, said that she had endured for more than two years various symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, joint pain, headaches, fatigue and anxiety to name a few.
And that her employer had failed to make the « reasonable adjustments » necessary to take her disability into account.
Following a hearing on 11 December 2020, the ET rendered a judgment siding with the claimant, ruling that she was « …from 1 November 2017, disabled by reason of (…) symptoms of the menopause »1.
A question impacting society as a whole
The issue of menopause and the workplace has come up more and more often in recent years. Just as an example, a recent Bloomberg article from June 2021 cites a 2019 survey indicating that about 900,000 women in the United Kingdom had left their work for reasons related to menopause.
Women over 50, and especially those between 55-64, represent an increasing share of the workforce in industrialized countries according to the OECD3.
Adapting working conditions to allow this growing population to optimize its potential is essential.
It is not just an economic question, but a question of society as a whole.
What are the best ways to achieve this goal as quickly and as efficiently as possible?
Can assimilating menopause symptoms to a disability be part of the solution?
The answer is not simple and undoubtedly has a strong emotional dimension for the women at the core of it.
Each person will definitely have their own opinion on the issue according to their personal experience.
Are you interested in the experiences of women at different stages of their menopause? Would you like a reminder of the physiology of menopause and the main symptoms? Download our free ebook, Menopause Story(ies).
1: source:ET Judgment 11 December 2020
2: at the time of the 11 December 2020 hearing
3: source: OECD statistics, « LFS by sex and age – indicators »
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