Do menopausal symptoms count as a disability? What are the implications for schools?

The Equality and Human Rights Commission released new guidance on how employers should treat women experiencing menopausal symptoms with warnings about their legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010.

With two thirds of working women between the ages of 40 and 60 with experience of menopausal symptoms saying that their symptoms had a mostly negative impact on them at work, there has understandably been an increasing focus on this area. Here at Edapt, we have certainly noticed a rise in our casework with issues relating to the menopause and schools in recent years with increased traffic on our menopause related support articles.

The new guidance has significant implications for employers and with women making up a disproportionately higher percentage of the school workforce, the implications for schools is amplified. Around 30% of the teachers in England are females aged 40+. This is even more pronounced for support staff including teaching assistants where the proportion is 64%.

The most striking piece of the guidance is that if menopause symptoms have a long term and substantial impact on a woman’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, these symptoms could be considered a disability.

Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments to not discriminate against workers with a disability. Reasonable adjustments for disabilities are also considered to be a part of fulfilling health and safety obligations. Schools who do not make these adjustments, leave themselves open to being sued by employees if they have been found to be discriminatory.

So what will this mean for schools?

Establishing what counts as a reasonable adjustment is likely to be more difficult within the education sector given some of the rigidities that exist in the system at present. Examples of suggestions of reasonable adjustments in the guidance include:

  • Adjusting room temperature and ventilation
  • Consider providing rest areas or quiet rooms
  • Relaxing uniform policies
  • Allowing staff to work from home
  • Varying start and finish times
  • Menopause-related absences to be recorded separately
  • Making allowances under performance reviews

Some of these are easier for schools to achieve than others and it will be important for schools to consider how this should look within their own context. For example adjustments might be able to made by:

  • Assigning a classroom nearer to staff toilets
  • Giving staff access to better ventilated rooms or provide fans for the classroom
  • Being able to work off-site during non-contact time
  • Having a system to call for in-school cover when needed

It should be noted that women who experience menopause will do so differently and there will be no one size fits all. However, schools may wish to consider introducing a menopause policy that outlines the support available for women and provide guidance to managers and colleagues.

With greater flexibility being seen for employees in general and the backdrop of recruitment and retention challenges, there will be further pressure for the education sector to think differently about their practices.

If you are an Edapt subscriber and have questions around this, get in touch with our expert casework team who will be able to provide you with detailed guidance and support.

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