Learn about menstrual leave and whether more companies should offer it. Explore the benefits and considerations surrounding this workplace policy.
by Amy Jones | Amy Jones is a freelance writer and avid researcher with a range of knowledge in the business and insurance sectors.
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Women in Spain are now entitled to three days of menstrual leave per month, following changes to the sexual and reproductive rights laws within the country. The government will also pay to cover the menstrual leave provision, with the three days stretching to five days if required.
These changes have sparked discussion in countries across the world, with many individuals and businesses wondering whether menstrual leave is something that they should be offering to women within the workplace. Let’s take a look at what exactly menstrual leave is and whether this is something that more companies should be offering.
What Is Menstrual Leave?
Period pain, also known by its scientific name dysmenorrhea, is a common occurrence. Over half of menstruating women experience pain for one to two days on average each month during their menstrual cycles.
For some women, this pain is so extreme and severe that it prevents and restricts them from their normal activities and can affect work productivity. Pain during a period can include backache, headache, nausea and vomiting, lightheadedness and fainting. Menstrual leave offers women time off work, either paid or unpaid, during the month to rest and recover from menstrual pain.
Is Menstrual Leave A New Thing?
Menstrual leave has existed in different forms for many years in countries around the world. The Soviet Union introduced a policy in 1922, Japan in 1947 and Indonesia in 1948. However, it is still rare in a number of economies. Following Spain’s law changes earlier this year, a movement endorsing the wider adoption of menstrual leave has grown and more businesses are beginning to offer it as a benefit to employees.
There has, however, been some backlash. There are some worries that menstrual leave reinforces negative gender stereotypes, which could lead to employer discrimination towards women. Menstrual symptoms vary from person to person, and whilst some women may feel unaffected by their monthly cycle, for other women, especially those with endometriosis, these symptoms can be hugely debilitating. Some women may also feel as though menstrual leave is giving into the idea that women are seen as being fragile or inferior and by taking menstrual leave, this can affect career opportunities or professional decorum. There is also the worry that coworkers will look less favourably upon those who make use of the menstrual leave policy.
In a 2021 study in Australia, 70% of women said they didn’t feel comfortable talking to their manager about their symptoms. Many women simply try to push through menstrual pain, however, this can be bad news for employers, as this just leads to bad knock-on effects such as a reduction in work productivity.
What Can Employers Do?
Menstrual leave is something which doesn’t appear to be on the political agenda in the UK just yet, so employers can expect to not see any legal changes which mirror those of Spain for a number of years. This, however, doesn’t mean that as a company, you can’t adopt the notion of menstrual leave. This should be decided on a company by company basis and should be factored into your business if you believe this is something that is worth offering to your workforce. If you find that there is the possibility of offering this, it could come under a wider set of employee benefits, just as you’d offer private dental care at a leading dentist in Milton Keynes for local employees, or discounted gym memberships.
You don’t necessarily have to offer paid days off to accommodate menstrual leave. Whilst this is what some other countries do, alternatives such as allowing work from home days, where female employees can feel more comfortable getting on with their work by having access to things such as heat pads and painkillers. You could also consider introducing flexible working hours for certain days per month which allow employees to remain comfortable without worrying about their pay or reputation.
It’s also encouraged that employers create a culture of open communication regarding the topic in the workplace and remove some of the stigma which is still attached to menstrual cycles. Offering free sanitary products in the workplace enables employees to feel as though adjustments can be made if needed and that open communication is recognised. A lot of employees won’t want to take time off for their menstrual symptoms and pain, so creating an environment where the topic can be discussed is a win-win situation.