From the desk of Melanie Whetzel, M.A., CBIS, Principal Consultant, Team Lead
One of the frequent questions JAN receives from employers and employees alike is whether menopause is a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To have a disability under the ADA, a person must have an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Examples of major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, walking, talking, reading, breathing, and concentrating. When the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) was passed in 2008, the operation of a major bodily function was added to the list of major life activities, including the function of the reproductive system.
Natural menopause is the permanent ending of menstruation. Because menopause is an entirely normal consequence of human aging, it is not an impairment and therefore is not considered to be a disability under the ADA. However, not all women undergo natural menopause.
Menopause due to aging is clearly distinguishable from early loss or impairment of childbearing that results from a disease or disorder at child-bearing age or from induced menopause as a result of surgery or medical treatments. Chemotherapy and pelvic radiation therapy as well as surgical removal of reproductive organs can bring on sudden and severe menopause and its side effects, including the inability to have children. Because impairment is defined as any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more body systems, including the reproductive system, menopause under these circumstances may qualify as an impairment and therefore may be a disability under the ADA.
Even though reproduction is considered a major life activity and someone limited in the ability to bear children could qualify as a person with a disability, we can clarify between menopause that is likely to and menopause that is not likely to qualify as a disability. When menopause occurs as a completely normal result of human aging, it is neither a physiological disorder nor a disability. Consequently, if a person does not have a disability, there is no obligation to accommodate under the ADA. However, employers are free to accommodate employees even when they do not have a disability.
See the following accommodation ideas that may be necessary for menopause:
- Modify or reduce work-site temperature
- Modify dress code
- Use cool vest or other cooling clothing
- Use fan/air-conditioner at the workstation
- Allow flexible scheduling and flexible use of leave time
- Allow work from home during extremely hot weather or breakdowns in the air systems
- Maintain the ventilation system
- Redirect air conditioning and heating vents
- Provide an office with separate temperature control
- Flexible scheduling
- Modified break schedule
- Leave for counseling and /or treatments
- Work from home/Flexi-place