A lawyer specializing in labor law on the management of occupational health problems
When WH surveyed our community, 57% of those battling a hormonal or gynecological condition told us they thought it had harmed their career.
That’s why we look closely and critically at how women’s health issues – from endometriosis, fibroids and PMDD to fertility treatment and (peri)menopause – affect our working lives.
How did we come here? What does it do? And how do you make meaningful changes? It’s women’s health at work.
You know what’s going on with the specifics of labor law as it relates to your health? Nope? Neither do we, frankly.
But banging the drum on women’s health issues at work without mastering the basics of the legislation that underpins employers real legal obligations? It’s like laying the perfect scalloped pastel tiles in your bathroom without dealing with the broken plumbing below.
To fill important gaps in our knowledge, women’s health reserved on a call with Moira Campbell, senior employment lawyer at Lawyers for Kingsley Napley. The eagle-eyed among you might recognize her from Davina McCall’s latest menopause documentary on Channel 4 – and, helpfully, she has experience representing employees and employers in corporate affairs. use.
“There’s such a lack of clarity on both sides,” she says W.H.– “which poses problems both in terms of [employers] provide the right support and also [employees] to apply [their] rights.’
Why do so many of us remain so misinformed about our rights? Campbell thinks it has a lot to do with the stigmatization of women’s health issues more generally in society — and then how that’s amplified when it comes to our professional lives.
“It’s only recently that the increased openness around women’s health issues has trickled down to the workplace,” she explains. “There have been real positive changes. And I think there will be more. But there is a lack of clarity and understanding about what real rights are, how to enforce them and ultimately , how to create the most positive work environment possible.
To that end, we’ve asked Campbell to provide you with a cheat sheet of your legal protections at work, as it relates to health issues and challenges specific to women, including fertility treatment and (peri) menopause.
She also offers her professional step-by-step guide for anyone worried about how a gynecological health issue or hormonal health issue might affect their performance. (Which, we should add, is a solid model to follow when disclosing many other health issues — including mental health issues.)
Your employment rights + menopause
In Campbell’s experience, most cases involving menopause often settle eventually. This is often due – she explains – to a mix of some employers wanting to avoid bad publicity, and some women taking the case not wanting to publicly fight it out in court.
The legal position on job applications is that menopause itself is not explicitly protected by the Equality Act 2010. However, somewhat confusingly, it is under this legislation that most complaints of menopause-related discrimination are made.
Campbell advises employers to be aware that the way postmenopausal women are treated in the workplace may give rise to complaints of discrimination and/or harassment based on gender and/or age, but that most successful complaints cite discrimination related to disability.
“This is because menopausal symptoms can, depending on their severity, negatively impact a woman’s ability to carry out normal daily activities, meaning a woman is ‘disabled’ for the purposes of this legislation,” says Campbell.
There has been talk of making menopause a specific protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, but officials have since said that will not happen.
So what does it mean to be “disabled” in the context of employee rights?
If labeling yourself as “disabled” due to a gynecological or hormonal health condition feels uncomfortable, you’re not alone.
“The word ‘disabled’ is often an obstacle for people who take the first step and obtain this protection,” admits Campbell. “But I encourage clients to remember that this is just the Equality Act 2010 definition. It’s just a technical definition, which actually works in your favour.”
For a health condition to be considered a disability, it must meet what Campbell defines as “the various limbs of the test.”
- Does it seriously affect your ability to carry out your normal daily activities?
- Will it last 12 months or more?
If the answer to both of these questions is yes, it is likely that your condition is a disability and you may qualify for protection under the Equality Act 2010.
However, she warns, employees who take legal action against their employer because of a disability often have to go through a fairly “intrusive, costly and difficult” process to prove they are disabled for the purposes of the law.
Your employment + fertility rights
The rights of women undergoing fertility treatment are largely lacking. “There is a protected period when a fertilized embryo is implanted, and the individual is then considered pregnant,” Campbell explains. “But it’s very short.
“If an implantation fails and the pregnancy ends, the protected period ends two weeks after that. If an employer treats an individual unfavorably during this protection period, then [the employee] could claim discrimination related to pregnancy and maternity.
“The Equality and Human Rights Commission also has a code that recommends that employers treat requests for leave for IVF treatments sympathetically.”
‘So, [employers] may want to establish procedures to authorize additional leave for IVF and fertility treatment,’ Campbell continues – warning that the watchword is recommended. “It’s not legally binding.”
I struggle with symptoms related to my menstrual cycle that negatively impact my work. What should I do?
The short answer is: if you feel comfortable, disclose it as soon as possible. But, as always, there’s a smarter way to have this conversation. Let’s break it down.
- Take medical advice. Don’t try to diagnose yourself or diagnose through friends – always talk to the experts.
- Now that you have assurance—and proof—from your healthcare professional, it’s time to reach out to your manager or HR professional, someone you trust to have that first conversation. You have no legal protection under the Equality Act 2010 if you do not disclose your status to your employer. Talk to them in person first, you don’t need to put anything in writing at this point.
- Prepare for this conversation, remembering that it serves a dual purpose. First, it’s about telling your employer about your condition and giving them that information. Second, it’s about making offers about the support you need. Whether it’s reasonable adjustments or flexible working (you can request this if you’ve worked for your employer for more than 26 weeks) or just want someone to be aware of the challenges you’re facing and watch on you.
- Don’t forget to read your company’s sickness policy (or condition-specific advice) and, using it, get a clear idea of the adjustments you want to ask your employer . The most productive conversations happen when you have a clear idea of what the desired outcome looks like – and the desired outcome is based on their existing policies.
- Follow this conversation in writing. Mark the email as private and confidential and highlights the main points of discussion.
Doesn’t disclosing my condition put me in danger?
Of course, this always involves risks. But from a long-term legal perspective, the smartest call is to be open about the challenges you face.
“Once the employer is aware of [the condition] they can hopefully be able to take steps to support the employee and mitigate the effects of their condition as much as possible,” adds Campbell.
“Yes, unfortunately there will be organizations that treat people less favorably because of their condition,” she explains. “But if the employer has knowledge of [the condition], [the employee] can be sure that they have legal protection if they need it later.
I understood? Good. We hope you find this useful.
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