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Menopause ruled a disability in Direct Line tribunal

The claimants severe symptoms were classed by the tribunal as a disability.

A former consultant at insurance company Direct Line was awarded £64,645 in damages after the firm failed to make reasonable adjustments for her menopausal symptoms.

Maxine Lynskey began working for Direct Line in April 2016 and for four years she performed well in the role.

However, she began suffering menopausal symptoms of 'brain fog', concentration and memory issues, as well as feeling frequently tearful in March 2020.

In June that year she was transferred to a lower-paid role, which managers felt would be less challenging for her.

The tribunal heard she struggled to meet the performance requirements in the new job, finding it difficult to access computer systems and frequently struggling for words when she spoke.

Read more: Why menopause matters in the workplace

In January 2021, Lynskey’s manager told her she would not be receiving a pay rise because her performance was not up to standard.

Two months later, the company commenced formal performance management proceedings against Lynskey, putting her on a performance-improvement plan.

Although she had repeatedly mentioned her menopausal symptoms, Lynskey’s manager told the HR department there were no mitigating reasons for her performance.

Lynskey resigned in May the next year, claiming against Direct Line for unfavourable treatment and lack of reasonable adjustments.

Her severe menopause symptoms were legally classed by the tribunal as a disability, according to Grace Horvath-Franco, trainee solicitor at law firm Stewarts.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “As demonstrated by this recent case, there will be instances where the menopause amounts to a ‘disability’ as defined by the Equality Act 2010.

“In order to be classed as a disability, an impairment must have a substantial and long-term effect on an individual’s ability to carry out normal daily activities.

"If an individual going through the menopause suffers memory loss, reduced concentration and severe anxiety one can see how the test for disability might be satisfied.”

Read more: Menopause and menstruation at work guidance launched

Kathy Abernethy, menopause specialist at health app Peppy, said menopause symptoms can create physical and psychological challenges for employees.

She told HR magazine: “Menopause symptoms present differently in different people, and employers should be aware that in some cases these symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and hard to deal with for employees.

“Stigma can often come from the fact that symptoms are not just physical, such as hot flushes and sweats, but also psychological, including difficulties with concentration and brain fog.”

Research from gender equality charity the Fawcett Society found 10% of women experiencing menopause have left the workforce due to their symptoms, rising to 25% for those with more severe symptoms.

Abernethy said employers should work to support menopausal employees and break down stigmas around the topic.

She said: “Showing compassion and making adjustments when people are having a hard time is the absolute minimum that employers should be doing, but in reality, they should be supporting people throughout their menopause journeys.

“Employers and managers should foster a welcoming environment that encourages employees to have conversations about stigmatised conditions like menopause.

“Be that educating themselves around the subject, to appointing menopause champions that people can talk to about their symptoms. The easier it is for employees to open up about their health, the easier it will be to identify and give them the support they need.”