Menstrual leave – everyday life or still something surprisingly rare?

Meeting the employees' needs has become a new way for companies to compete in the market for the best specialists. In addition to non-wage benefits, employees also offer various types of leaves – including menstrual leave.

The world is constantly changing. The growing wave of employees – Millennials (35% of the world’s labour market) – forced entrepreneurs to look at their job offers from a completely new angle. For a new generation of employees, stability, a good salary, and finishing the given tasks aren't the most important values of work. Those three mentioned ones are symbols of the old approach – Motivation 2.0 – which is already outdated.

In new reality employees want something more – a possibility to develop their passions, achieving a more sophisticated goal – self-realization – which is a strong foundation of the new work model – Motivation 3.0 and a revolution in thinking about work that comes with it.

Employees appreciate not only the salary amount but also the atmosphere in the workplace, the possibility to develop new skills, and additional benefits. Menstrual leave seems to be a great opportunity to convince potential employees and fit perfectly to the new reality of tolerance, diversity, and equality, sending the clear message of the company's progressive approach.

But did it happen?

Over three years ago we posted an article on our Medium with an interview with Fiona – the CEO of SHOPLINE – one of our customers from Taiwan, where menstrual leave became something guaranteed in labor law. Back then, the popularity of this kind of extra leave was barely noticeable. How is it today?

One may think that with the development of companies, huge pressure on Employee Experience, and work-life balance, it should be only better. In the end maternity leave, paternity leave, rewards for non-smoking employees, and many brave experiments with different lengths of workday or workweek (tested, among others, in Japan) are becoming something usual.

Searching for information about leave days due to a period can give a headache and doubt in one's own ability to search for information. But after a few more tries it's easy to conclude that, sadly, work culture is still outdated and not suitable for the new realities.

In the whole world, there're only several countries that understood women's needs and discomfort accompanying them during the period. Between those sparse countries are:

  • Indonesia – the beginning of menstrual leave took place in 1951, and since 2003, every woman is entitled to 2 days off a month,
  • South Korea – menstrual leave is provided by labor law, and if a woman won't use them, an employer has to pay for those days,
  • Japan – since 1947 every labor law states that employer should give a woman a day-off during the period, but it doesn't provide any special kind of absence for this situation,
  • Taiwan – since 2002 labor law provides woman 3 additional days-off for a year that can be used during the period,
  • Zambia – since 2015 women can get one leave day per month. It's called "Mother's Day". If a workwoman won't get a day-off, she's entitled to sue her employer,
  • Some of the Chinese provinces – since 1993, and in the refreshed version, since 2006, women are guaranteed with 2 days off per month,
  • Some Australia companies – since 2018 some companies started including menstrual leave as their own leave policy independently of labor law,
  • India – thanks to Culture Machine company menstrual leave gained popularity there in many enterprises since 2017, but it's still isn't included in labor law,
  • Poland – there's no mention of menstrual leave in labor law, but one company – specializing in producing streetwear clothes: PLNY LALA – introduced this policy. It's the first company in Poland which gives their women employees one day off per month. Will it contribute to large-scale change in leave policies in Europe?

The first European country that discussed introducing a new kind of leave type because of the period was Italy in 2017. Introducing the new rules didn't come to fruition, but they were the beginning of many debates about this case and how it should look in Europe. A similar idea came from Russian authorities, but the idea ended in a fiasco due to a discriminatory narrative behind the proposal.

Between other countries, menstrual leave is still something unknown, but in a similar way as in Poland, in some places, entrepreneurs are introducing this policy bolder and bolder. There are also some new discussions about the topic in the given nations, due to the Menstrual Matters data:

It's not hard to notice that offering a day-off due to the period isn't very popular. "Why's that?" – some can ask. In a world where maternity leave – which is strongly connected with labor – is something as natural for women as period – and accepted all over the world, leaving the menstrual day-off on the side is something weird. What are the pros and cons of menstrual leave then?

Why is it worth giving women the right to menstrual leave?

As the research of the Journal of Women's Health shows, over 70% of women under the age of 25 are suffering due to a time of pain. Between other symptoms accompanying menses, there are mood swings, trouble with focusing, and tiredness.

Most women endure the pain and come to work as usual. Even though asked about their results during period, women admitted that they were worse than usual. Feeling bad and weaker may affect not only work efficiency but also the learning process. That's why it's very common in schools to give a girl the possibility to call indisposition during PE classes.

Providing women a possibility of taking a day-off when they feel really bad doesn't mean they will be abusing this possibility every month. The need for an "emergency exit" is in some cases so strong, that they wouldn't risk losing it because of laziness. But you can't always be sure.

The truth is, giving women the additional day-off on account of period (or at least an extra day of remote work per month annotated in leave management records) could be a huge relief and help for some of them. We're talking about not only those women who suffer from endometriosis, but also various other conditions, such as dysmenorrhea.

Have you ever wondered how many times leave requests made by your women employees were related to their menstruation?

Many women are concerned about telling their employer the real reason for taking leave on demand. In addition to shame, there is also the fear that because of their unproductivity, they will be fired or the employer's opinion about them will change. Introducing the official menstrual leave policy would help women to dare and take care of their well-being without worrying about worst work results.

What do opponents say about menstrual leave?

Among those who disagree with giving women additional leave days are not only men but also a lot of women. Apart from the obvious doubts of abusing day-off because of the period, women have their own concerns.

First of all, they don't want to feel weaker and worse than men, which is how they can be seen in their eyes if they receive an additional absence. On the other hand, the introduction of menstrual leave may mean that people with chronic illness – such as asthma or depression – might also request extra leave time-off. So the situation is not as simple as it might seem.

In addition to problems related to justice and fairness, there are also more mundane ones: how to calculate such absence?

First of all, every woman has a different period. There's no exact date when the menstrual cycle is stopped and its length might be different each month due to various causes. Pain also isn't the same every time. So how can you tell if a woman really needs a day-off? The only thing is to believe that they will be honest. Perhaps, this is the biggest problem that's holding back the new menstrual leave policy.

Summary

For the last 3 years, there were no meaningful changes about the period leave topic. Some countries and companies see the need for giving women an extra day-off for this cause, but most of them are skeptical about it. Providing female workers will menstrual leave, while also ensuring that it's not unfairly abused, is a problem that needs to be solved before introducing a new policy to the organization or on the country level.

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