The case of Lynskey v Direct Line Insurance Services Ltd highlights the importance of managers being trained and made aware of the complex issues surrounding menopause. Although menopause itself is not a specified disability under the Equality Act 2010, symptoms of menopause can amount to a disability.
Mrs Lynskey worked for the insurance company as a telesales consultant. She had always been considered to be reliable and enthusiastic. In 2019, the insurance company introduced a new initiative which involved re-training the entire sales force. This coincided with the onset of menopausal symptoms for Mrs Lynskey, including ‘brain fog’ and concentration difficulties. Mrs Lynskey’s performance declined, despite coaching and support from her new line manager. She was diagnosed in 2020 with hormone imbalance/depression/low mood and prescribed medication which included anti-depressants. She shared her health condition with her line manager but following a break down at work in June 2020 she was placed on a ‘success plan’ and received weekly coaching.
Following a customer complaint, Mrs Lynskey was offered an alternative role with fewer targets which was accepted to start from July 2020. All was going well until further customer complaints were received where it was found she been abrupt and rude. Mrs Lynskey’s request for adjustments to her role, such as fewer calls and longer between each call, were refused. At an end of year review, her line manager stated that she was struggling to get to grips with and understand the new role. She was graded at ‘need for improvement’ and did not receive a pay rise as a result.
First written warning
A disciplinary meeting was held in April 2021, where she was issued with a first written warning and a further ‘success plan’. It was recorded in the decision that Mrs Lynskey had experienced menopausal symptoms which can impact a person’s ability to retain information and cause ‘brain fog’. However, this was not accepted as mitigation for her under performance because Mrs Lynskey had willingly made the decision to stop taking anti-depressants.
By August 2021, she was referred to occupational health (OH) following a period of sickness absence. OH advised that she was likely to be disabled and would not be able to return for a further 6–8 weeks. A review of training needs and an adjustment to target-based work was also recommended until the menopausal symptoms improved. Her managers later used their discretion to stop sick pay which caused Mrs Lynskey further stress and anxiety.
Resignation and claims to the employment tribunal
Following a grievance, Mrs Lynskey later resigned in May 2022. She brought claims in the employment tribunal for constructive dismissal and disability, age and sex discrimination.
The tribunal found that the insurance company should have known, or ought to have known, from March 2020, that Mrs Lynskey had become a disabled person by reason of menopausal symptoms. Further, an OH referral ought reasonably to have been made at that time. Mrs Lynskey was successful in her claim for failure to make reasonable adjustments. She argued that the requirement to meet performance standards of her role was the relevant provision, criterion or practice and that this had put her at a substantial disadvantage. The tribunal agreed that it was evident Mrs Lynskey was at a disadvantage in comparison with colleagues without her disability in being able to meet performance standards and targets. She was awarded a total sum of £65,000, which included aggravated damages due to her employer’s failure to concede that she was a disabled person.
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