Menopausal employee who was not allowed Fridays off work was discriminated against, says judge

Menopausal woman
Menopausal woman - Getty

A menopausal employee who wanted to take Fridays off work to cope with the “Old Lady Disease” but was refused was discriminated against when her boss failed to ask how the midlife change was affecting her.

Marie Johnson, an administration worker, had asked to work a four-day week, saying the condition had a “profound” impact on her day-to-day activities at Bronzeshield Lifting, a crane hire business in Kent.

She likened the menopause to feeling as if she had “a goldfish bowl on her head”, an employment tribunal heard.

However, Ms Johnson’s boss, Martin Jones turned down her request to switch her day off from Wednesday to Friday, and failed to ask her how she was being affected, as he “thought he wouldn’t understand it”.

This led to Ms Johnson resigning after 27 years of employment at the “predominantly male” crane rental business.

Representing herself at the tribunal, she successfully sued her bosses for disability discrimination and unfair dismissal, with a judge criticising Mr Jones’s lack of interest in the menopause.

The hearing in Croydon, south London, was told Ms Johnson joined Bronzeshield Lifting in Dartford in 1995.

The administrator first became menopausal in early 2018 and her symptoms included low mood and volatile emotions, anxiety and low self-esteem, and fatigue.

Ms Johnson told the panel she suffered from brain fog and her menopause affected her resilience and “ability to cope with the stresses and strains of daily life and work”.

At the time, the mother of two grown-up children was also going through some “challenging things”, which included caring for her elderly parents and uncle.

In August 2021, Ms Johnson approached her bosses and asked them to reduce her working days so she was no longer working Monday to Friday, 9am to 4pm.

Ms Johnson asked to amend her working hours and reduce them to a four-day week in order for her to attend a course on Wednesdays.

She said: “With both my children now grown up, I am no longer restricted to times, but at the same time with the above in mind, I am at a point in my life (coping with the Old Lady Disease) that I need to reconsider my future.”

Her request was approved and between September 2021 and July 2022 Ms Johnson worked with this arrangement.

Then, the administrator asked to alter her working hours again, this time taking Friday off and working a half day on Thursday.

Ms Johnson said this was due to changes in circumstances with regard to her caring responsibilities.

Upholding her claim of disability discrimination, the judge said “[Mr Jones’s] evidence was that he did not know much about menopause.

“His evidence was also that he did not ask [Ms Johnson] about it when dealing with her request. He said he did not do so because he would not understand.

He added: “He is an intelligent man and he was of course in fact able to understand menopause symptoms if he asked someone about them and they explained them to him in an ordinary way. There is nothing inordinately difficult to understand.

“What was needed was not some scientific understanding, but simply how menopause affected [Ms Johnson’s] day-to-day in life and at work. That was easily within Mr Jones’ comprehension.”