The word 'disability' may summon images of people suffering from grave physical incapacity but, in employment law terms, it has a much broader meaning than that. In an employment case on point, a woman who was suffering from the ill effects of the menopause met the statutory definition of disability (Daley v Optiva).
The woman, who was in her 50s, suffered physical symptoms including hot flushes, night sweats, headaches, joint pain and tingling extremities. Mentally, she endured anxiety, panic attacks, disrupted sleep, memory lapses and difficulty concentrating. She had also been diagnosed with an overactive thyroid, but her symptoms apparently arose predominantly from the menopause.
She launched Employment Tribunal (ET) proceedings alleging, amongst other things, that her employer had failed to make reasonable adjustments to cater for her disability. The question of whether she was in fact disabled within the meaning of Section 6 of the Equality Act 2010 was considered at a preliminary hearing.
Ruling in the woman's favour on that issue, the ET noted that the statutory definition of disability requires that a person must have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. A substantial effect is more than minor or trivial.
The ET found that the woman's difficulties with concentration, memory and fatigue substantially impacted on her ability to remember work processes and to read and understand documents. She had significant difficulty in continuing her formerly active social life and was so tired during the day that she was unable to watch a film through to the end without falling asleep.
Other day-to-day activities that she found challenging due to her condition included carrying heavy shopping and driving long distances. Her symptoms were long term in that they had persisted for more than two years. The ET's ruling that she was disabled opened the way for her to pursue her claim to a full hearing.