Employee Relations

What is Menstrual Leave And Why The US Should Adopt It

Jeffrey Fermin
Jeffrey Fermin
February 28, 2023
6 Min Read
What is Menstrual Leave And Why The US Should Adopt It

Earlier this month, the Spanish parliament approved sick leave for women suffering from incapacitating periods, making Spain the first country in Europe to do so. According to Minister Irene Montero, this decision is momentous in terms of women's health. This law will provide women with the right to paid absence during their periods.

Menstrual leave legislation is often contested – however, it is “becoming more common and contemporary, proponents argue they can advance gender equality by normalizing menstruation,” said Marian Baird, a professor of gender and employment relations at the University of Sydney, who co-authored a recent paper on global menstrual leave legislation.

In this post, we'll learn a bit more about menstrual leave, some of the challenges around it, the benefits of it, and make a case for the U.S. to adopt it.  

What is menstrual leave?

Menstrual leave is a form of time off from work that is granted to women who are experiencing painful or uncomfortable menstrual symptoms. It is intended to provide women with the flexibility and support they need to manage their menstrual health without the fear of negative consequences such as losing pay, falling behind in work, or facing disciplinary action.

Menstrual leave policies can vary from country to country and even from company to company. Some employers may offer paid time off for menstrual leave, while others may require women to use their sick or personal leave. Some policies may allow for a set number of days off per cycle, while others may allow for flexible arrangements based on the individual's needs.

Quick background on menstrual leave

The idea of menstrual leave is not new. In fact, it has been around for decades in some countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Indonesia, where it is known as "seiri kyuka" or "menstrual leave." However, it has gained greater attention in recent years as a means of addressing the stigma around menstruation and recognizing the impact it can have on women's lives.

Proponents of menstrual leave argue that it is a necessary step towards greater gender equality in the workplace. They argue that menstrual symptoms can be debilitating for many women, and that not providing them with support could lead to negative outcomes such as decreased productivity, absenteeism, and even mental health issues. Menstrual leave is seen as a way to help women manage their menstrual symptoms and to signal that menstruation is a natural and important aspect of women's health that should be recognized and supported.

However, critics of menstrual leave argue that it reinforces gender stereotypes and could lead to discrimination against women in the workplace. They argue that it could lead to women being seen as less committed or less productive than their male counterparts, and could ultimately harm their career prospects. They also argue that it could be difficult to implement fairly and could lead to issues of abuse or misuse.

Overall, menstrual leave is a complex and controversial issue that raises important questions about gender equality, workplace policies, and the importance of supporting women's health.

Potential Challenges With Making This More Common Place

While menstrual leave has potential benefits for women's health and well-being, it is not without its challenges. Here are some of the challenges that may arise when implementing menstrual leave policies:

  1. Stigma and Discrimination: Despite efforts to destigmatize menstruation, there may still be a culture of shame and embarrassment around periods in some workplaces. This could lead to women feeling uncomfortable or ashamed about taking menstrual leave, or even facing discrimination or negative consequences from their employers.
  2. Misuse and Abuse: Menstrual leave policies could potentially be abused or misused, leading to challenges in implementing fair and consistent policies. For example, employees may falsely claim to have menstrual symptoms to take time off, or employers may discriminate against women who take menstrual leave.
  3. Legal and Administrative Issues: Introducing menstrual leave policies may raise legal and administrative issues for employers. For example, employers may need to navigate complex regulations around leave entitlements and pay, and may need to establish clear policies and procedures for requesting and approving menstrual leave.
  4. Equity and Inclusion: There may be concerns about equity and inclusion in implementing menstrual leave policies. For example, some employees may not menstruate but still need time off for other health conditions or caregiving responsibilities. It is important to ensure that menstrual leave policies do not create a hierarchy of health conditions or perpetuate gender stereotypes.
  5. Cost and Productivity: Providing menstrual leave may come with costs for employers, such as paying for temporary replacements or covering the workload of the employee on leave. Additionally, there may be concerns about decreased productivity if a large number of employees take menstrual leave at the same time.

Despite these challenges, menstrual leave can be a valuable tool for promoting women's health and gender equality in the workplace. Employers can work with employees to establish fair and flexible policies that meet the needs of their workforce, while also addressing any concerns or challenges that may arise. By doing so, they can create a workplace culture that values and supports all employees, regardless of gender or health status.

Benefits of Menstrual Leave

Menstrual leave has the potential to bring about a range of benefits for both employees and employers. Here are some potential benefits that could result from the implementation of menstrual leave policies:

  1. Improved health and well-being: Menstrual leave can help women better manage their menstrual symptoms, which can improve their physical and mental health and well-being. By providing women with the time and support they need to manage their symptoms, employers can help reduce absenteeism and improve productivity.
  2. Increased gender equality: Menstrual leave can promote gender equality in the workplace by recognizing and supporting women's health needs. It sends a message that women's health matters and should be taken seriously, and can help reduce stigma and discrimination around menstruation.
  3. Greater productivity: By allowing women to take time off to manage their menstrual symptoms, menstrual leave can help to increase productivity by reducing the number of days lost due to absenteeism or reduced work capacity.
  4. Improved workplace culture: Implementing menstrual leave policies can help create a more inclusive and supportive workplace culture. By recognizing and accommodating the needs of women, employers can send a message that they value and support their employees, which can lead to increased job satisfaction and loyalty.
  5. Positive branding: Companies that implement menstrual leave policies may be seen as progressive and socially responsible, which can improve their brand image and reputation.
  6. Reduced costs: While there may be costs associated with providing menstrual leave, such as hiring temporary replacements, these costs may be offset by the benefits of reduced absenteeism and increased productivity.

Overall, menstrual leave has the potential to bring about a range of benefits for both employees and employers. By recognizing and supporting the health needs of women, employers can create a more inclusive and productive workplace culture, and help promote gender equality in the workplace.

A case for making menstrual leave a common practice

Menstrual leave can help create a more supportive and inclusive workplace culture. By recognizing and supporting the health needs of women, employers can create an environment in which all employees feel valued and respected. Companies that offer menstrual leave policies may be seen as more progressive and socially responsible, which can help attract and retain top talent and improve their brand image and reputation.

Making menstrual leave a common practice in the United States is not only the right thing to do from a health and equity standpoint, but it also makes good business sense. By recognizing and accommodating the unique needs of women, employers can create a more productive, inclusive, and supportive workplace culture that benefits everyone.

As such, it is time for the United States to catch up with other countries that have already implemented menstrual leave policies and take steps to ensure that women have the support they need to manage their menstrual health and well-being.

Want to know if your workplace would like menstrual leave?

If you'd like to implement AllVoices to collect employee feedback, it will help you understand how implementing a policy like this can improve the workplace. Learn more about our tool today!

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