‘No sympathy, no understanding’: the social worker fired while perimenopausal

After 18 years of service, this social worker found no duty of care from her employers when her perimenopause brought on crippling anxiety

I loved my job as a social worker. I always worked above and beyond – overtime, weekends; more than once I turned detective to track down children who had gone missing and travelled to find them, at whatever time of day or night, to persuade them to come back.

Just before I was fired in 2018, one young boy who was lovely – even though he’d had such a sad life – told me that everything had been taken away from him and he supposed that I’d be taken away from him next. I told him not to worry – that I’d be there to look after him until he no longer needed me.

It was shortly after that I was fired purely because I was suffering perimenopausal symptoms that were disabling but, according to my bosses, not sufficient excuse for my falling behind on my caseload. It didn’t matter that I had an unblemished 18 years of employment.

I didn’t get to say goodbye to any of those young people, many of whom I’d been working with for several years and was the only constant in many of their lives – the only person they really trusted. It breaks my heart.

It was back in 2017 that I first went to my manager to tell him I was struggling. I didn’t know what was wrong with me; I thought the menopause was hot flushes and brain fog. I didn’t know about the great waves of paralysing anxiety or the total transformation of who you are.

But gradually, I began to be overwhelmed by life. I felt immense fatigue. I ached, right from the inside of my bones, and had palpitations that lasted hours. They were so bad that I thought my heart was going to come out of my body. I collapsed more than once; I would come to on the floor, with bleeding head injuries.

Soon I was just living day-to-day, trying just to get through until I could collapse into bed. I lost two stone in weight: I just couldn’t eat.

I went to the doctor but he just prescribed antidepressants which made things worse. I went to a heart specialist, too, but no one mentioned the menopause.

My boss said to take the time I needed, but shortly afterwards, put me on a performance improvement plan which made everything worse: it was another set of hoops for me to jump through. There was no sympathy. No understanding.

It had been going on for about a year before I realised, through doing my own research, that this was the menopause. It was such a relief: I had thought I was going mad, that I had dementia.

But even though I got HRT, it didn’t help. HRT takes time to become effective and then there was a global shortage, so I didn’t get it for months.

During that time, I kept having these disciplinary meetings at work and during one of these meetings, completely out of the blue, they announced I was fired.

I was in total shock. I felt like a criminal. I walked straight out of the meeting and went to bed. I couldn’t get up for weeks.

Then I began to get angry. I just felt it was so unjust, how I’d been treated. I was being punished for having problems around a woman’s transition. I also thought there were lots of implications for other women going through the same thing.

So I decided to take them to a tribunal. I paid £12,000 for a barrister but I didn’t stand a chance: the tribunal judge, this man in his 60s, completely dismissed all mention of the menopause. My bosses didn’t turn up to the hearing and so their claims couldn’t be challenged. The judge just saw that I was behind in my work and backed my bosses, corroborating their behaviour. Now they have carte blanche to carry on the same way with other women in the same position.

I don’t know what I’m going to do now. I’m on yet another version of HRT – my fifth type – and it’s finally working well. If I’d felt this well while I was employed, I’d never have let them get away with what they did.

But now I’m a 56-year-old woman who has been sacked. What are my options?


Amelia Hill

The GuardianTramp

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