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Menopause & reasonable adjustments

Menopause – headlines today not quite what they seem

You may have seen the national press talking about Menopause, and in particular the coverage arising from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) new guidance, which suggests that employers should make workplace accommodation for women experiencing symptoms.

Nothing particularly odd or shocking there, and we would encourage employers to talk to employees about the impact menopause is having on them, and to consider sensible steps to help mitigate the impact.

Headlines misleading – not all menopausal women will be legally protected

The papers of course are always looking for a story and they have hooked on to one comment in the EHRC’s commentary that failing to make reasonable adjustments could result in employers could be sued…., some papers suggested this morning that could happen if an employer didn’t allow (any) menopausal women to work from home (mentioned in several of today’s papers).

This reporting was a rather blunt interpretation of the new guidance, giving the (very wrong) impression that all menopausal women will be able to sue their employers if their flexible working working requests are refused.

In an earlier article we profiled the case of a senior employee who’s request for permanent home working was refused, and that decision was supported by an employment tribunal – you can read about that case by clicking here.

That employee didn’t have any ‘serious’ health issues, and that will also be the case of most menopausal women. That isn’t to say that all menopausal women won’t have unpleasant symptoms, they will of course, but most won’t have these to the extent that they cause those women to be ‘disabled’ as defined in the Equality Act.

Only the most acute sufferers are likely to be regarded as ‘disabled’

To be ‘disabled for the purposes of that Act requires this definition to be satisfied:

“A person (P) has a disability if:

(a) P has a physical or mental impairment, and

(b) the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on P’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.”

‘Long term’ in the definition is generally accepted as being a year or longer and ‘substantial’ means more than minor or trivial.

Some menopausal women’s symptoms will be severe enough to satisfy that definition, as will (but not all) some obese people’s symptoms, and some with virtually any other condition you’d care to mention. Anxiety, for example, is something that will effect many of us in our lifetimes, but it will only be acute enough to be regarded as a ‘disability’ in a very small number of sufferers.

Correcting the headlines

And so, this morning’s headline in today’s Daily Mail:

‘Bosses must make allowances for menopausal women’

should really, if accurate, read,

‘Bosses must make allowances for menopausal women in circumstances where their menopausal symptoms are severe enough to qualify them as being disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act’.

Hmmm. I don’t feel the chances of my becoming a newspaper headline writer are particularly strong!

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