The Possibilities of Period Leave

How paid period leave would make the workplace more inclusive for all  

via Cottonbro Studio

Various countries have adopted period leave, but not Ireland.   

If we know a certain set of traffic lights will hold us back, we go a different route. If we know an item will be cheaper in another shop, we go there. If we know it’s going to rain, we take an umbrella. So if we know that on certain days each month, we’ll experience extreme pain, fatigue, or nausea, we should book time off, right? Well, despite the fact that menstruation is a reoccurring and relatively predictable phenomenon, this isn’t the case. In fact, a study from YouGov showed that just 4% of people had taken time off due to their periods. However, 57% said their periods had affected their ability to work. 

There are many reasons for this, such as stigmas surrounding menstruation, period pain not being taken seriously and people not wanting to ‘waste’ days off with it, along with messaging that it is something to work through. Menstruation is also reoccurring, with 13 possible cycles a year, sick days can run out fast.  

But this is where conversations around period leave come into play. Simply put, period or menstruation leave entitles someone to time off, paid or unpaid, from their employer while they are menstruating. The concept has made headlines recently as in March, Spain became the first European nation to adopt the system. The country allocates three to five days per month of paid menstrual leave for workers.  

But while they were the first in Europe, plenty of other countries have similar programs in place. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Zambia, and Indonesia all offer accommodations for menstrual leave, each with its own system. For instance, Taiwan offers three days menstrual leave a year at 50% pay, while Japan offers unlimited leave but unpaid. Although 30% of Japanese businesses do offer full or partial pay anyway.  

While the practice is common and not particularly new, with Japan adopting menstrual leave in 1947, that doesn’t mean it is without its controversies. Many feel the concept implies periods make us weak, others argue it acknowledges the realities of periods and the long history of ignoring female pain. Some believe it goes against a feminist fight for equality as not everyone can avail of it, but equality is about recognising struggles and supporting those who need it to ensure we can become a fairer more equal society.  

Menstrual leave is also a health issue and could prove revolutionary to how medical conditions and labour engage. Menstruation can be an intense physical process experienced by a massive number of people, with 26 per cent of the global population menstruating each day. As such, it makes for a perfect starting point when it comes to more inclusive and innovative leave. With such high numbers, it seems logical that provisions could be made in the working world. And doing so could possibly change the way we think about leave or be the start of more comprehensive accommodations for other medical issues.   

There are also concerns about the system being exploited, but realistically this would be a challenge. Most period leave policies have time frames, so no endless days off without question. While most workers generally understand their responsibilities and want their workplace to do well, with regular sick leave being just as easily exploited, and yet companies are still functioning. In fact most countries with menstrual leave don’t struggle with this.  

Of course, productivity comes into question, and while some may think time away from work bad is for business, it might not be the case. The way we work has changed drastically over the past few years. The days of being shackled to a desk from nine to five aren’t as prominent as they once were. With work from home, flexible hours, and office hubs changing the landscape dramatically and proving more traditional ideas of work might not be necessary. And maybe innovative leave is simply the next step, with well-rested employees who feel good being a big benefit to business. Global companies have gone a step further than period leave, with Microsoft, Zoom, Roku, and many others offering unlimited paid time off, believing it to benefit their employees’ wellbeing and therefore their company.    

via Anna Schvets

And while countries have been slow to implement paid period leave, quite a few companies have taken the initiative themselves, with Indian food-delivery company Zomato, Australian gender equality agency Victorian Women’s Trust, and Cork-based healthcare and research company Solvotrin Therapeutics, along with many more, offering period leave.  

Other workplaces are finding different ways to balance menstruation and work. Menstruality mentor and yoga teacher Kitty Maguire makes every effort to accommodate those in need at her business the Red Alchemy. “They can schedule their work around their cycle. I need stuff done but in the grand scheme of things, health is a priority. Looking at the bigger picture of the person in front of you, is their health and wellbeing important to you? To me, it is,” she explains. 

 There are many reasons why Kitty supports period leave, such as bringing people back in touch with their natural cycles. But also, the intersectionality of the issue, with such leave proving beneficial for the neurodivergent community. “I’m doing a lot of awareness now for women, say with ADHD and autism, how at different stages of their cycle, their hormones are exacerbated, and how that can be a trigger,” she says. “Having your bra on can be a nightmare, if you’re working in a corporate place, to have to put on the corporate style clothes, doing your hair and your makeup…it’s the last thing you want to do.” 

Currently, Ireland has no plans to implement such leave, despite campaigns from Irish trade union Fórsa and strong public support. But if we were to introduce such a policy, what would it look like? 

Ideally period leave would be fully paid, as taking away income would discourage people from availing of days off. There is also privacy to consider, as disclosing menstruation is not always safe for different communities and environments, for instance, the trans community. A strong system would need to be in place, with discretion and safety in mind. Until period leave is recognised and respected, equality in the workplace continues to be out of reach.