Can I be fired for menopausal symptoms?


I was suddenly fired from my job at a hedge fund after telling my line manager that I was experiencing difficult menopausal symptoms. The symptoms did negatively affect my performance, but surely the impact of my hormonal changes should be taken into consideration by my employer?

Rachel Phillips, employment associate in the London office of JMW Solicitors, says your employer should have taken your symptoms into account as a mitigating factor when applying any performance management policy. Using these as grounds for dismissal is likely to be deemed unfair. You may therefore have a claim for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination. 

Employers are prohibited from treating workers unfavourably on several grounds including sex, age and disability — and recently published guidance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission says the symptoms of the menopause can be considered a disability if they have a long-term and substantial impact on a woman’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities. 

Headshot of Rachel Phillips, employment associate at JMW Solicitors
Rachel Phillips, employment associate at JMW Solicitors

Employment tribunals have also found employers liable for sex discrimination in circumstances where they found a manager would not have taken the same approach with a male colleague with a medical condition affecting their performance as it did with a menopausal female colleague. 

To follow best practice, employers should assist staff experiencing menopausal symptoms with workplace adjustments, such as providing flexible working arrangements, rest areas, temperature control measures or additional breaks. Raising awareness across the business can help reduce the risk of scenarios similar to yours. They could also be offering external support, such as through private health insurance.

Women over the age of 50 are the fastest growing sector of the UK workforce, so it’s vital that employers understand how menopause can affect employees (though it is important to add that individuals can experience the menopause at a much earlier age too). By creating a culture of awareness and supporting employees with the necessary adjustments, employers can retain this pool of talent and avoid employment tribunal claims. 

In the meantime, if you plan to join a different company, it may be worth researching whether it advertises any menopause support. For example, many companies have signed up to the Menopause Workplace Pledge to confirm that they are taking positive action.

How can we solve our Anglo-French probate issue?

My father died recently and his French holiday home is causing problems in the probate process. He had a will that set out that English inheritance rules would apply to his French home (we understand EU regulation [Brussels IV] permits this). Yet the local solicitor has chosen to ignore this, saying the forced heirship approach in France applies. What should we do?

Olivia Meekin, a partner at law firm Bishop & Sewell

Olivia Meekin, a partner at the London law firm Bishop & Sewell, says your late father did the right thing in his will, but sadly I am not surprised to hear about the subsequent difficulties experienced with probate and the French home.

Different countries operate different legal systems, with England founded in “common law”, where judges rely on precedent and past decisions to guide their decision-making; and much of Europe based on “civil law”, where laws are created by legislature. Each system treats inheritance in different ways. 

In England, we have testamentary freedom, meaning we can leave assets to whomever we choose. In much of Europe, forced heirship rules dictate whom you must leave assets to — and whom you cannot exclude.

Despite his will clearly stating English inheritance laws will apply, the will needs to be approved by the relevant courts where property is held. This can often only be done once probate has been granted in the UK and a certified translation of your will has been prepared by a suitably qualified professional.

You are right that EU legislation was introduced to harmonise succession rules across Europe, giving individuals the choice of which jurisdiction will take precedence. It continues to apply even though the UK is no longer part of the EU. 

However, problems can occur as regional lawyers can often be unfamiliar with the English legal system and some concepts, such as trusts and executorships, do not exist under French law. This can cause delays or result in the will being treated as unworkable under French law, particularly if trusts are involved.

Local lawyers can often request documentation that does not exist under the UK probate process — such as court-approved and certified accounts — meaning the process can grind to a halt. There are also occasions, particularly in rural areas of mainland Europe where, despite the EU legislation, local lawyers still refuse to deal with property according to UK law and insist on imposing the forced heirship rules.  

Our next question

I’ve been working for my family’s company, which I was told I would inherit one day. But my brother has said he expects the business to be split 50/50 with him. Could I still pursue a claim, even if I’ve taken a salary?

Even where the European Succession Regulations are upheld, a 2021 law in France now gives children the right to claim a share of the French estate equivalent to what they would have been entitled to under French law, regardless of what it says in the UK will.

Due to the conflict that can often arise between UK and French law, there is no easy answer to the problem. However, many problems will be avoided if, in addition to your UK solicitors, either a local lawyer is instructed who is familiar dealing with the assets of UK nationals, or a cross-border lawyer is consulted who has an understanding of both the UK and French law and can more seamlessly deal with the interaction of each country’s legislation. Working together they can advise you and assist should things get stuck.

The opinions in this column are intended for general information purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for professional advice. The Financial Times Ltd and the authors are not responsible for any direct or indirect result arising from any reliance placed on replies, including any loss, and exclude liability to the full extent.

Do you have a financial dilemma that you’d like FT Money’s team of professional experts to look into? Email your problem in confidence to money@ft.com

 



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