The case of a woman who was allegedly discriminated against due to suffering menopause symptoms will be heard by an employment tribunal this week in a legal first.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHCR), which is supporting Maria Rooney’s case, said she was suffering from menopause symptoms, anxiety and depression when she took periods of extended sickness leave from her job as a social worker for Leicester City Council in 2017 and 2018.
The commission said the now 52-year-old received a formal warning over her absences despite her disclosing her symptoms and resigned in October 2018 after she claimed she received unfavourable treatment and inappropriate comments over the issue.
A Leicester employment tribunal will hear Ms Rooney’s case, which is expected to last 16 days and centres around claims she was discriminated against, harassed and victimised by her employer on the grounds of disability and sex.
The tribunal will hear evidence from Tuesday, with Monday being a reading day, the employment tribunal confirmed.
It is the first case involving an employment tribunal where menopause symptoms are deemed to amount to a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act, the EHRC said.
Ms Rooney said: “I was a dedicated children’s social worker and I worked at Leicester City Council for 12 years but when I started suffering with work-related stress and anxiety and menopausal symptoms, nobody listened or helped me.
“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.
“When I received a formal warning for being off sick I felt that I had not been treated fairly so I tried to appeal my manager’s decision, but unfortunately my appeal was not upheld so I made the tough decision to resign from a job I loved after 12 years of loyal service.
“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.”
According to the NHS website, menopause symptoms can include mood changes, anxiety, and memory issues, as well as physical symptoms including headaches, palpitations, skin changes and sleeping difficulties.
The EHRC said employers should support workers who are affected by the menopause and may have a duty to make reasonable adjustments where symptoms are significant and may be a disability.
Ms Rooney also held an occupational health report while in her previous role, which stated that she had work-related stress and anxiety, and a health and well-being passport for perimenopause.
Following her resignation, Ms Rooney lodged claims with the employment tribunal against the council in January 2019.
The tribunal decided in February 2022 that Ms Rooney was disabled at all material times covered by her claims, by virtue of her symptoms of menopause combined with stress and anxiety symptoms.
It marked the first time an employment appeal tribunal decided that menopause symptoms could amount to a disability, setting a legal precedent.
ECHR chairwoman Baroness Kishwer Falkner said: “Menopause symptoms can significantly affect someone’s ability to work.
“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.
“I am pleased we can support Ms Rooney with her case which she has been fighting for several years now.
“We will soon be launching new guidance for employers, so they have the resources to ensure they are looking after their staff who are going through the menopause, and we will encourage all employers to use it.
“As Britain’s equality regulator, we will continue to intervene in cases such as this and hold employers to account by using our unique powers.”
A Leicester City Council spokesperson said: “As the tribunal is due to start hearing this case this week, it would not be appropriate for us to comment at this time.”