An officer worker was awarded £37,000 in compensation after her employer claimed the menopause was her “excuse for everything”, which she then said made her position with the company “untenable and intolerable”.
The Aberdeen tribunal heard Mrs K Anderson had called in sick to her work at manufacturing supplier Thistle Marine (Peterhead) after experiencing heavy menopausal bleeding, but was told to “just get on with it” as “everyone f****** gets it” by her boss and company director, Jim Clark.
The tribunal ruled that Clark’s comments were “deeply insulting” and “demeaning” and amounted to statutory harassment. Consequently the firm was ordered to pay her more than £37,000 in compensation, covering harassment and unfair dismissal claims.
Anderson began working for the company in June 1995, and the tribunal heard she was “hardworking and well thought of by the owners and directors of the business” before the grievances occurred.
In August 2021, she informed her employer that she was going through the menopause, which was causing her “serious symptoms” including a loss of concentration, brain fog and anxiety. She did not ask for any adjustments to her work, and her employer agreed to pay for private healthcare to discuss her symptoms with a doctor, where she was given a treatment plan.
On 13 December 2022, there was a heavy snowstorm and Anderson was unable to attend the office, but continued to work from home. The following day (14 December), she told Jason Clark – the company’s technical director and son of the director – that she was unwell from heavy menopausal bleeding and would work from home.
On 15 December, she was able to return to the office but, when she arrived, Jim Clark commented in a sarcastic tone: “Oh I see you’ve made it in!” Although she explained how the snow had prevented her coming in initially and how she then suffered heavy menopausal bleeding, the tribunal heard that he gave her a “disgusted look” and then walked away.
An argument then pursued between Anderson and Jim Clark. He accused her of “strolling” in and out of work whenever it pleased her, and he also questioned the number of days off she had taken that year, including holidays. He then said: “Menopause, menopause a’biddy f****** gets it, just get on wi’ it, that’s your excuse for everything.”
The tribunal heard that Anderson once again tried to explain her symptoms, to which Clark retorted: “A’biddy has aches and pains.” At this point Anderson was described as becoming “hysterical” and she claimed that what had been said amounted to discrimination and that she was going to take legal advice. She left the premises and went home.
The next day (16 December), she was still upset and too unwell to work, and composed a grievance letter. She wrote that the company was aware she was on a number of medications to ease her menopause symptoms and although she “loved [her] job”, Clark’s actions had “adversely affected” her abilities to undertake her duties. “Thistle Marine (Peterhead) has provided no help, reasonable adjustment, assistance or support. Instead I am being treated with disdain and disgust [owing to] no fault of my own,” Anderson wrote in her grievance letter.
“It’s my hope that [by] invoking the grievance procedure, I will not be made a workplace pariah, or subjected to any ‘detriment’ or ‘detrimental treatment,’” she continued, adding: “I trust that my career can continue to flourish under positive circumstances.”
On 19 December, Anderson attended a doctor’s appointment in which the doctor signed her off work for 28 days. On the same day, she discovered that remote access to her work accounts had been cut, meaning she was unable to work from home with no prior warning of acknowledgement of her grievance letter. She decided to resign.
In her resignation letter dated 21 December, she wrote that her position was “untenable and my working conditions intolerable”, citing a breach of contract, breach of trust and the “last straw doctrine”. She consequently raised employment tribunal proceedings.
Employment judge J M Hendry said: “We had no difficulty in accepting that the conduct of Jim Clark had the purpose of violating the claimant’s dignity,” and amounted to an offence under the Equality Act.
The tribunal was left with “the strong impression” that Jim Clark was “spoiling for an opportunity to have a ‘go’ at the claimant”. Hendry added: “It was telling that during his evidence he told us that the claimant had taken two foreign holidays that year and went on to say how many days they had both lasted.”
In the circumstances, Hendry said despite Jim Clark’s actions being “sufficiently serious to have allowed [Anderson] to resign immediately… she did not do so. She sought to try and repair the relationship through lodging a grievance.”
The company had “no cause” to cut her computer access on 19 December, and thus her claim for unfair dismissal was “well founded”.
The firm was ordered to pay her £18,826.56 consisting of a basic award of £13,418.50, plus money for a loss of statutory rights, loss of wages and loss of pension contributions. The tribunal also awarded her £10,000 for injury to feelings, together with £228 as interest, and she was further awarded £8,325 for accrued unpaid wages. The total cost therefore came to £37,379.56.
Paula Kathrens, employment partner at Blake Morgan, explained that earlier this year the government decided against making menopause a new protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, because it was decided that existing protected characteristics of sex, age and disability already provided protection against discrimination and harassment as a result of menopause. And this is evident in this case. “In Anderson's case, the relevant protected characteristic relied on was sex,” she said.
“The increase in media coverage and interest in the menopause is not going away any time soon and we will undoubtedly see more high-profile claims of this nature. Employers need to be proactive therefore and support their staff going through the menopause.”
Organisations should encourage open conversations, cover menopause during the induction process and appoint workplace menopause champions, Kathrens advised. “Other employers have found that implementing a menopause policy and holding regular training sessions to educate staff have been very helpful,” she noted.
Thistle Marine (Peterhead) has been approached for comment. Jim Clark could not be reached.
EHRC to launch more guidance
Today (2 October), Baroness Kishwer Falkner, chairwoman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said it would soon be launching new menopause guidance for employers, following an employment tribunal ruling that a Leceister-based social worker was disabled by virtue of her symptoms of menopause combined with symptoms of stress and anxiety.
The case involves the first Employment Appeal Tribunal decision that menopause symptoms can amount to a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act, setting a legal precedent.
Falkner explained: “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.”
She said as Britain’s equality regulator it would continue to intervene and “hold employers to account” to ensure employees who are affected by menopause are adequately supported and not discriminated against.