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Menopause onset sparks UK age discrimination lawsuit

Age discrimination is often based on age or experience, but this UK lawsuit focuses on an employee’s menopause. What can the US learn?

Older woman who may have gone through menopause

An employment tribunal in the UK found that a 44-year-old woman was “unfairly dismissed” due to age when her younger CEO told her not to let her hormones get out of control. It was a reference to menopause.

The woman argued that the CEO would not have said this to a younger employee, regardless of gender. Although this case took place across the pond, it’s a good reminder to employers in the United States to be cautious when speaking about age or gender in hiring decisions.

Menopause in the workplace

The Society for Endocrinology believes that employers need to take menopause seriously. It actually occurs when a woman has not menstruated for 12 months. For most women, this occurs after the age of 50, but it can occur much earlier. The period beforehand is known as perimenopause. This transitional period can have some of the same symptoms:

  • Hot flushes
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty focusing and concentrating
  • Insomnia

According to the Society for Endocrinology, three out of four women experience menopausal symptoms, while about 25% of women have serious symptoms. About 80% of menopausal women are working.

Menopause has been a taboo subject for many years, just like endometriosis and periods. Fortunately, the culture is changing and employers are starting to be aware of women’s issues and how they impact the workplace.

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Menopause is not a disability

Menopause is considered a natural phase of life, so it isn’t recognized as an official disability. Some symptoms, especially if severe, could be considered a disability, so when a woman asks for accommodations that will help them deal with their symptoms, it might be worth considering them – even though as employers, you may not legally be required to.

Don’t use menopause to discriminate

Employers should be aware that using menopause as a hiring/firing basis could be problematic in other ways. Generally speaking, women over 50 who are discriminated against because of menopause could use the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. Although the ADEA doesn’t specifically mention menopause, gender and age over 40 are protected classes. If you treat a female employee unfairly due to entering this stage of life, it could come back to haunt you in the form of a lawsuit.

Dealing with menopause in the workplace  

The Society for Endocrinology recommends employers have a policy that supports menopausal women in the workplace. Raise awareness and offer training to managers to know how to talk about menopause and its impact on work without discriminating against older women who may not realize how their symptoms are coming across. It’s important to recognize that every woman experiences menopause differently. We need transparency and inclusivity to support women at all stages of their life.

The UK lawsuit is a good reminder about how to treat women in the workplace and how not to use their life stage against them. 

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Dawn Brotherton is a Sr. Staff Writer at The American Genius with an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Oklahoma. She is an experienced business writer with over 10 years of experience in SEO and content creation. Since 2017, she has earned $60K+ in grant writing for a local community center, which assists disadvantaged adults in the area.

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