Employment Advice

Recent Employment Tribunal decision could give employers (Meno)pause for thought

A decision of the Employment Tribunal released on 25 September found that an employee had been constructively dismissed by her employer, and harassed by one of the Directors, as a result of comments made about her menopause and the way in which her subsequent grievance was handled.

20 Oct 2023

Team name
Esther Marshall

Esther Marshall

Karen Farquharson had been employed by Thistle Marine (Peterhead) Limited since 1995. In the summer of 2021 she began experiencing symptoms of the menopause. One of the company’s directors, James Clark, was known to have a dismissive attitude to employees who took time off sick, often referring to them as “snowflakes”.

In December 2022 Ms Farquharson worked from home for 2 days. The first was due to adverse weather meaning she could not get in to work, and the second because she was experiencing heavy bleeding. On the day that she returned to the office, Mr Clark commented that she had “finally turned up”. When Ms Farquharson took issue with the comment, and explained that her menopausal symptoms had made it impossible for her to come to the office, Mr Clark said that “all biddy’s get it”, it was “an excuse for everything” and she should “just get on with it”.

Ms Farquharson then filed a grievance against Mr Clark. Rather than acknowledging the grievance, the company removed her remote access. She then resigned, claiming constructive dismissal.

The Employment Tribunal found that Mr Clark’s comments did amount to harassment and had the effect of violating Ms Farquharson’s dignity. The Tribunal also found that the company’s decision to remove her remote access in response to her grievance severed the relationship of trust and confidence between employer and employee, and allowed her to consider herself to be constructively dismissed.

Ms Farquharson was awarded over £37,000 in compensation.

M&P Commentary

Esther Marshall, specialist in Employment law, said:

“In years gone by, the issue of the menopause was not one with which employers often had to grapple. Many women did not return to work at all after having children, or returned to work part time. These days women are often still in full time employment when they enter the menopause and as a result are trying to manage their symptoms whilst working. In addition to physical symptoms, women may also suffer with anxiety, brain fog and fatigue.

Employers must be alive to the impact that menopause can have on employees, and make adjustments if possible to assist menopausal employees. It should also be noted that, despite the workplace in this case being one where “industrial language” was often used, comments such as those made by Mr Clark were found to constitute harassment. What may be thought of as a joke, or a throwaway comment about the menopause could have serious consequences.”

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