'Highly sensitive topic' | Worker wins legal fight over boss' 'humiliating' menopause remark

Worker wins legal fight over boss' 'humiliating' menopause remark

A worker has emerged victorious from an age and sex discrimination case after her boss said to her “she must be in her menopause”.

As reported by Metro, Leigh Best has been awarded £20,000 following an employment tribunal which heard details of ‘inappropriate and derogatory’ remarks made to her by Boss, David Fletcher, while she worked as a sales assistant at a pet shop in Essex.

According to the tribunal, Fletcher made the comments “at the top of his voice” to Best, who was 52 at the time of the incident, following an argument over an order mix-up.

The employment judges heard that Fletcher’s comments to Best “had the effect of violating dignity and of creating a humiliating environment for her at work”, according to the Metro.

When she complained about the comments to Fletcher’s wife and Co-owner Andrea Fletcher, she was told to “stop moaning”, the tribunal heard, and was told to “get on with everybody or we’ll have to call it a day”.

The Metro also reported that, alongside complaints about discrimination, Best also raised concerns about the way the company was handling staff safety during the COVID pandemic.

In response, she was reportedly told she was being “paranoid”. Best was sacked just a month later, in May 2020, prompting her to take her bosses to court.

During legal proceedings, the company claimed Best was dismissed for being “rude” and “confrontational”, but the tribunal decided she had actually been sacked for raising COVID safety concerns and complaining about Fletcher’s behaviour.

The tribunal, headed by Employment Judge Bernice Elgot, ruled: “Mr Fletcher invaded the claimant’s privacy, broached a highly sensitive topic for her and acted tactlessly in directly asking her, as an employee having the protected characteristic of sex as a woman, whether she was menopausal.

“He asked that question even after… she had made it quite clear she did not wish to participate in any such discussion.

“We are satisfied that part of the reason for the company’s decision to dismiss Mrs Best is that she made a significant allegation of sexism and ageism against Mr David Fletcher.”

Best was awarded more than £20,000 in compensation.

Rise in menopause-related legal cases

Employment tribunals centring on menopause-related issues have quadrupled in the past three years, analysis from the Menopause Experts Group recently revealed.

A total of 43 cases referencing menopause were referred in the tribunal process since April 2017. The analysis found that there were six cases in the last nine months of 2017, compared with ten of in the first six months of 2021.

The term ‘menopause’ was mentioned eight times in tribunal rulings in 2017, but according to the new findings, has already featured 116 times in the first six months of 2021. If this rate were to continue, there would be 232 mentions over the course of a full year.

A quarter of the 43 employment tribunals took place in London, with six in Glasgow, four in Birmingham and two each in Manchester, Cardiff, Dundee and Leicester.

To prevent further cases, the Menopause Experts Group called on employers to offer their employees training about the symptoms, signs and side-effects of the menopause. The group believes that further education on menopause would result in greater empathy an understanding for those suffering with symptoms.

Dee Murray, Founder and CEO at Menopause Experts Group, previously told HR Grapevine: “We regularly hear horror stories about how women are discriminated against in the workforce, and sadly menopause is one area where employers keep getting it wrong.”

“This dramatic rise in the number of employment tribunals citing menopause shows how women are standing up for themselves against out-dated and ill-informed bosses. The lack of education is dangerous for women’s health and unfair to their careers.

“What’s frustrating is the fact that there are so many training courses available to employers. Teaching our colleagues about menopause is vital if we are going to remove the stigma surrounding what is a big part of a woman's life,” Murray added.

How some firms are supporting staff

Despite these figures, HR Grapevine has previously reported on several firms that have rolled out new policies around menopause.

For example, the sustainable brand Modibodi announced a new policy that offers staff paid leave for menstruation, menopause and miscarriage.

Elsewhere, the multinational company Diageo announced its first ever global Menopause Guidelines under the banner of ‘Thriving Through Menopause’ earlier this year.

Launching across the multinational business locations in the UK, Ireland, the US and Canada, Diageo said it hopes to raise awareness and understanding for menopause with the workplace and break the current taboo.

As such, it will be providing resources to employees and managers who may be experiencing menopause both directly and indirectly, and in building support mechanisms such as access to counselling and mindfulness sessions.


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