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Announced in May 2022, Spain is looking to introduce a menstrual leave policy as part of its health reforms to the social security system. With only five countries worldwide currently with a nationwide, legislated menstrual leave policy, namely Zambia, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Indonesia, could we ever see similar legislation in the UK?
There are arguments both for and against a menstrual leave policy. Women, who already experience a 15.4% lower median pay than men would no longer see a greater wage gap with days of unpaid leave racking up every month. Then, there’s already a negative stigma around women who are on their periods, the opinion that women are weaker than their male counterparts, and other similar rhetoric.
However, on the other hand, the third (according to Ju, H., Jones, M., & Mishra, G.) of menstruators who experience severe, debilitating period pain may argue differently. From nausea and vomiting to lower back and stomach pain, having a day or two a month of paid leave could improve the productivity and well-being of mensurating employees.
So, how could a UK menstrual leave law work, and how would this affect HR, payroll, and employee wellbeing?
Spain’s menstrual leave policy will give menstruators the chance to take up to three paid leave days a month, funded by Spain’s social security system.
Here in the UK, the first three days of sick leave are unpaid under the mandatory SSP, leading to many menstruators at risk of losing up to 36 days’ worth of salary a year when they are on their period. A suggested reform could be to allow those on their period Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from day one when sick pay is used for menstrual leave.
Another suggestion is to allow for flexibility, such as working from home or reduced hours while on your period. Similar to reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities, this would allow for a simple policy change at a workplace to be more encompassing of chronic pain conditions like dysmenorrhea (medical condition of very heavy and painful periods), endometriosis or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
It would be a relatively simple policy in nature, but the introduction of such legislation has opened up a much wider conversation around periods in the workplace.
Zambia, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are the only countries worldwide with legislated national menstrual leave.
Currently, Zambia has a ‘Mother’s Day’ policy, which is one day a month for period leave.
In Indonesia, the Labour Law, Act 13, Article 81 says “Female workers/labourers who feel pain during their menstrual period and tell the entrepreneur about this are not obliged to come to work on the first and second day of menstruation.”
In Japan, Article 68 of the Labour Standards Law states “When a woman for whom work during menstrual periods would be specially difficult has requested leave, the employer shall not employ such woman on days of the menstrual period.”
South Korea permits one day a month of menstrual leave and has done since 1953.
Article 14 of the Taiwanese Act of Gender Equality in Employment states “Female employee having difficulties in performing her work during menstruation period may request one day menstrual leave each month. If the cumulative menstrual leaves do not exceed three days in a year, said leaves shall not be counted toward days off for sick leave. All additional menstrual leaves shall be counted toward days off for sick leave.”
Penalisation in the form of unpaid sick leave is felt by many employees. Menstruators who take time off without any contracted sick pay, or who require more than the allocated sick pay, will lose out on significant earnings over the years.
With the average monthly cost of having a period sitting at around £14 accounting for inflation for just the absolute essentials (pads/tampons and painkillers), any loss of earnings is adding to the cost of a period.
By creating a welcoming environment for menstruators, employees will feel more committed to their workplace. Temporarily losing an employee when on their period for one or two days every month is more than worth it in return for a dedicated and loyal employee who is willing to commit 100% for the rest of the month.
If an employee is not in excruciating pain, discomfort or anxious when in the workplace, their productivity will be improved. Bloody Good Period, a period equity charity, showed that these are all reasons why those on their period may become less productive when at work.
By allowing for flexible working or time off when on your period, the productivity of employees increases, as they’ve had the rest they need and are ready to be back in the office at full capacity.
Periods are largely regular, with the average cycle sitting at 28 days. This means that you can predict when you are most likely to be on your heaviest, and most painful, days. By introducing a menstrual leave policy, the number of unexplained absences, especially for those of menstruating age, will reduce.
By introducing a policy that largely affects women, although it is worth noting that not all women menstruate and not all who menstruate are women, you will see an increase in both passive and active discrimination against women.
Things such as the reduced flow of information, not being invited into meetings and other discriminatory practices could all happen due to a menstrual leave policy.
As with any leave policy, there is always outcry over the ‘what-ifs’. In this case, what if someone isn’t actually in severe pain, or what if people are using these period days to do non-work-related activities?
It’s a common question, and one that is hard to regulate. In Spain, they are proposing to overcome this through a doctor’s note, so only those with diagnosed dysmenorrhea, endometriosis, PCOS or other menstrual medical conditions receive this leave. This does however mean that those who may just have a ‘bad’ month on their period lose out on provided leave.
If a menstrual leave policy was introduced and required a certain number of paid leave days for menstruators, hiring committees could use it as a reason to employ a man over a woman for a role. While this is obviously illegal, unconscious bias does still happen in the modern workplace.
Ultimately this would entitle menstruators to a large increase in paid days off/extra flexibility in their job role. On paper, this could be seen as unfair to those who don’t menstruate, which is predominantly men; however, it should be seen as someone with a chronic pain condition receiving reasonable accommodations.
If a woman is on her period, it is possible she will receive negative comments around her mood, appearance and so on. If menstrual leave became a thing, this could only increase the negative language and view of women in the workplace. However, it is important to remember that not all women have periods, and this sweeping generalisation could hurt women who, for a variety of medical reasons, cannot menstruate.
As well as educating themselves on the issues that menstruators tend to face, HR teams also have a variety of other resources at their disposal.
Using HR software allows for discreet tracking of reasons for sick leave. If a manager or senior member of staff can approve sick leave for reasons that only the manager and the employee requesting the leave are aware of, it can make it easier to request more types of sensitive leave.
Staffology HR’s cloud based HR software allows you to set the Absence Reason, and limit access to this information to just the manager and the requestee.
By continuing to use language that hides the fact that someone is on their period such as “time of the month”, the root of the problem is never addressed. While some people prefer to use this language as they feel ashamed or embarrassed about their period, it’s better to encourage a more realistic or scientific approach to discuss periods.
This could be your office management team sharing information about period poverty or enabling open discussions to happen. Bloody Good Employers, a not-for-profit organisation, has more information on how to enable these discussions.
This simple change can make a huge difference, as it shows workplace acceptance of menstruating. It can also be highly practical if a period starts unannounced and saves an employee from feeling like they need to go home or to the shops, disrupting their workday and making them feel embarrassed.
Workplace policies are largely more effective when senior leadership and management adopt them. This encourages junior staff to use the policies as intended, as the example is set for them.
Seeing a senior member of staff in the office when ill, or on their period, often makes junior staff feel like that is what they have to do, which sets an unhealthy precedent. It’s important that for unequivocal take-up of a new policy, senior staff encourage the policy through adoption.
With our cloud-based, flexible and modern HR software, we can accommodate your workplace policies, however you want to run them.
Get a demo today, and see how we can help you enable policies for your company in an easy to administer way.Duane Jackson, December 21st, 2022