Should Companies Offer Menstrual Leave?
If you’re someone who menstruates or has ever menstruated, then we don’t have to tell you this twice – periods can be rough. As wonderful as the female body is, periods can be anywhere from uncomfortable to unbelievably painful. Menstruation gets even more complicated when you add in the possibility of reproductive health disorders like endometriosis and uterine fibroids.
When you’re on your period it can be difficult to do anything but crawl into the fetal position while binge-watching TV. The thought of chores, errands, work, and other responsibilities can be incredibly daunting, and not what you want or need to be focusing on right now. Enter the possibility of menstrual leave. What is it exactly and should it be required by employers? Short answer – yes!
What is Menstrual Leave?
Menstrual leave is the option to take time off from work during your period. This could be paid or unpaid depending on where you live and the employer. The number of days offered will change as well. These are outside of vacation or sick days, which people often dip into when they regularly deal with period pain. Unlike vacation time, menstrual leave should be automatic without an approval process. People shouldn’t have to push through pain or exhaustion just to get through a work day. Menstrual leave also helps to break taboos and normalize conversations around reproductive health.
The Benefits of Menstrual Leave
The benefits are pretty obvious – not having to work through the pain and discomfort that can come with having a period. As well as not having to explain yourself or worry about being told no when you need to rest. There could be benefits for employers as well. Treating your employees better means an overall better work environment. We’re seeing more and more that the idea of the 40-hour work week not only is hard lifestyle-wise but isn’t necessary for many professions. Giving employees more flexibility, whether that’s for menstruation or other reasons, makes them happier, and probably more efficient employees overall.
Places That Offer Menstrual Leave
Menstrual leave is not a new concept. A handful of countries have required it for quite some time.
The furthest back legislation is in Japan, starting with a 1947 law mandating employers offer unlimited menstrual leave upon request. Although it isn’t required that this is paid, about 30% of Japanese employers offer partial or full pay.
In South Korea, it is mandated for employers to offer one day of unpaid menstrual leave per month, employers could even face hefty fines if they refuse an employee’s request for it.
In mid-2022, Spain approved legislation for paid menstrual leave.
Indonesia passed legislation in 2003 mandating two paid days of menstrual leave per month, although it is not widely enforced and many employers disregard it.
Taiwan offers three days of menstrual leave per year, paid at 50% of their salary in addition to 30 sick days per year.
In 2015, Zambia legislation required employers to offer one day off a month without a doctor’s note or prior notice.
It isn’t common in the United States, but more start-ups and other companies are starting to offer it. Other countries where it’s popular but not mandated include Australia, France, and India.
Should Medical Verification be Required?
Menstrual leave brings up the question of whether you should need to offer medical verification or not. In our opinion, no, you absolutely shouldn’t have to. For one, you shouldn’t have to justify your pain or discomfort to an employer. That’s a violation of privacy, and not up to their judgement. Many reproductive health disorders go undiagnosed. Or people have pain or discomfort that hasn’t been “medically verified”. Trusting medical professionals over an employee’s reported lived experience is indicative of a lack of respect and a possible toxic workplace.
Even if you don’t have a reproductive health condition, being on your period can make you tired and often requires more rest. When you’re able to take time to give your body this rest and recharge, you’re often more productive when you get back to work and other obligations.
Potential Issues with Menstrual Leave
All in all, yes, of course, companies should offer menstrual leave. Even better if it’s mandated by government legislation. Although there are some potential issues. The biggest one being even if menstrual leave is required, if it is unpaid, many who need it still won’t be able to take advantage of it. No matter how much pain or discomfort someone is in during their period, they probably won’t take unpaid menstrual leave if they’re not able to afford to take time off work. This gets more complicated for people that work for small businesses that may not be able to afford to offer paid menstrual leave, even if they have the best of intentions.
Even in places where people have the option of paid or unpaid menstrual leave, many people might not take it because of cultural work ethics and stigmas around periods. Varying labor laws and enforcement in different countries mean that menstrual leave isn’t enforced by governments to employers, even in places where it is technically mandated. There are also potential safety and privacy concerns for people who menstruate that aren’t cis-women like trans-men and non-binary folks. Not to mention potential discrimination in the workplace when it comes to opportunities, raises, and promotions based on the amount of menstrual leave someone has taken. In some places like Indonesia, the mandate of paid menstrual leave has led to discrimination against females in the hiring process.
Menstrual Leave: The Bottom Line
There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to menstrual leave, and it greatly depends on where you live, and where you work. In addition to offering the leave, it also takes company-wide education to help normalize the idea of menstrual leave and prevent discrimination against those who take it. But at the end of the day, let people rest when they need to rest!
Natasha (she/her) is a full-spectrum doula and health+wellness copywriter. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, health, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more education and empowerment. You can connect with Natasha on IG @natasha.s.weiss.