Period Equity: How to Adopt a Period-Friendly Policy

Offering time off for menstruation, often referred to as period leave, is uncommon for companies in the United States. While countries such as Russia, Japan, Mexico, and others have offered this benefit for decades.

Key takeaways:
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    Period leave has been available in some countries for decades.
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    Normalizing discussion of menstruation may reduce stigma.
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    Some fear period leave could cause workplace discrimination.
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    Carefully word policies and educate employees.

Controversy remains about whether period leaves can lessen the taboo around discussing menstruation and empower women or produce unintended consequences and reduce women's equity in the workplace.

Social stigma and menstruation

Since discussing menstruation is often socially unacceptable, it's not a topic that’s easy to discuss in the workplace. This stigma may cause some menstruators to continue to work while keeping their distress a secret. Presenteeism, or employees working while sick, isn’t always helpful to the company.

A 2017 survey in the Netherlands reported that those who worked while suffering from painful menstrual conditions resulted in nearly nine days of lost productivity per year.

Employees who silently push through difficult menstrual symptoms such as cramping, backaches, and migraines may also avoid seeking treatment for painful menstrual conditions.

Menstrual conditions

Menstruation symptoms vary from person to person, and while some experience mild discomfort, others may suffer significant pain and other debilitating symptoms. There are many disorders related to the menstrual cycle which can cause excessive bleeding or exacerbate the pain and discomfort during this time of the month:

  • Endometriosis.
  • Uterine fibroids.
  • Dysmenorrhea.
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD).
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).

Ways companies can support a period policy

Select companies have adopted various policies to promote menstrual health and destigmatize menstruation.

These period policies may include:

Paid or unpaid leave time, varying from 1-3 days per month.

Providing a comfortable area in the office to rest, sometimes referred to as a well-being room.

Offering free menstrual hygiene products in company restrooms.

Having flexible work options, such as working from home during difficult days of the menstrual cycle.

Pros of period leave

Despite concerns about a lack of support or feelings of resentment, according to a survey in May 2022, both men and women supported period leave.

Russia and Japan may have initially implemented period leave policies to care for a woman's reproductive health by releasing them from work, but other positive benefits may include:

Company culture of trust and good faith.

Inclusiveness of biological differences in the workplace.

Elimination of period taboos and reduce the shame associated with requesting time off.

Increasing feelings of respect, support, and empowerment for women.

Cons of period leave

Besides many women and transgender employees feeling as if suffering in silence is an expectation, some fear using time off for menstruation could have adverse effects.

Gender pay gaps already put many women at a disadvantage and some worry that using period leave could increase this gap. Even those who support having a period policy may be reluctant to take advantage of it for fear of:

Suffering from stigma, lost work opportunities, or being viewed as inferior, less committed, or less capable of performing their job.

Discrimination in hiring practices, salaries, or promotions.

Harassment or repercussions regarding inequity toward men or non-menstruating employees.

Increasing company production costs.

Lost employee income if the period leave time is unpaid.

Tips for companies

Gaining employee input is essential in creating a period leave policy and considering how to present the information to employees. Otherwise, despite the intent to provide a positive benefit, the policy could cause opposing challenges or employees may be reluctant to utilize it.

Companies should consider the following with policy creation:

Policy wording and implementation

Carefully draft the policy's language to eliminate misconceptions about a menstruators ability to perform their job.

Classification of period leave time

Determine how the employee will ask for the leave time and whether to classify it as sick time, another coded term, or if proof is required, such as a doctor's note, evidence of severe symptoms, or a particular diagnosis.

Educate to destigmatize menstruation

To ensure that the policy isn't promoting the myth that menstruation renders a person unfit for work, considerations should be made in a manner that normalizes open discussion of menstruation.

Add to anti-discrimination policies

Ensure that menstrual discrimination is added to anti-discrimination policies to address underlying beliefs and attitudes to reduce potential adverse effects on menstruators.

Privacy

Coding the leave time as a sick day and not requiring the employee to state the reason may encourage menstruators to utilize the time. This individual approach can prevent those who identify as genderqueer, non-binary, or transmen from having their menstrual status revealed and risk discrimination.

Remove barriers

Another option is to show expanded support for women’s health by offering leave related to menstruation, menopause, and miscarriage.

Even if period leave is supported by employees, without careful consideration of policy language and employee education to normalize discussion of menstruation, employees may not take advantage of this leave. Taking small steps by reviewing current company leave time policies and providing education may foster inclusiveness and reduce the shame of requesting time off.

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