A recent ruling in the employment tribunal (ET) case of Lynskey v Direct Line Insurance Services highlights a critical area for organisational development and sensitivity: the impact of menopause on employees. In what will be seen by many as a notable case, Direct Line Insurance Services faced liability for discrimination arising from disability and a failure to make reasonable adjustments. This followed a sequence where a menopausal employee received a low appraisal rating, a written warning about her performance, and the withdrawal of sick pay during her subsequent absence due to illness.
Despite the employer’s efforts to support the employee through various means, including additional training, daily management advice, occupational health referrals, a change in role, and counselling services, the ET concluded that these measures were insufficient. The tribunal pointed out that certain actions should have been taken earlier, such as timely occupational health referrals, adjustments to the performance management process, and modification of targets. The measures taken were not deemed a proportionate response to achieving the company’s goal of maintaining a quality and efficient service.
This case, although only at the first stage of the decision making process and open to appeal from Direct Line Insurance Services, underlines the complexity of managing performance issues among disabled employees, particularly when symptoms of menopause may be misunderstood by management. Menopausal symptoms can significantly affect an employee’s work performance and day-to-day life, and a lack of awareness can lead to poor management decisions.
As discussions around menopause become increasingly open, it’s likely that employers will see a rise in related claims. This situation underscores the importance for organisations to implement specific menopause policies, provide dedicated training for human resources and managerial staff, and elevate overall awareness within the workplace.
Effective training programs should encompass not only general disability and discrimination awareness but also detailed understanding of menopause and its potential impact on employees. Training should aim to equip managers with the knowledge to recognize menopausal symptoms and the understanding to approach the subject with empathy and support. Moreover, such educational initiatives should guide organisations in exploring less discriminatory ways to support menopausal employees and in making reasonable adjustments to their roles and performance targets as needed.
A further interesting point of note within the tribunal award of around £65,000 compensation was that it included an award for aggravated damages attributed to the employer’s unreasonable delay in acknowledging the disability itself. Further emphasis if ever it was needed that the need for timely recognition and support for employees with menopause-related symptoms is paramount.
In conclusion, this ruling serves as a call to action for organisations to prioritise inclusive practices and to understand the breadth of disabilities, which includes the often-overlooked area of menopause. With the right training and policies in place, employers can not only mitigate the risk of discrimination claims but also foster a supportive work environment that values and retains experienced staff through all stages of life. If your organisation needs any assistance in providing training to staff, or drafting policies, please contact us today.