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Period Leave: What Does It Mean For Your Company?

March 16 2016 - This week a Bristol based company hit the headlines when it announced it would be granting female employees 'period leave' in line with their 'period policy'. Reports suggest that Coexist, based in the Stokes Croft quarter of Bristol, believe that allowing women who are struggling with pain or discomfort associated with their menstrual cycle to take time off will increase productivity within their team.

But how could period leave affect your business? How do you continue to promote equality in the workplace while simultaneously meeting the needs of those who suffer from clear gender based ailments? Here are just a few things to consider before making the decision about whether period leave is something that could work for your company.

What is period leave?

While some companies offer a generous pension scheme or life insurance policy, others offer period leave - a concept that allows women to take time off work specifically because they are suffering from menstrual pain (otherwise known as dysmenorrhoea). The NHS suggests that studies show up to 90% of women suffer from pain during their period, and 14% of say that their pain is so severe that they are unable to go to work frequently. Much like sick leave, they would still be entitled to pay and although no such thing has been rolled out in the UK before (at least on a large scale) other multi-national companies such as Nike have used it in the past. In fact, in Japan period leave has been available to working women for several decades.

What are the benefits?

Advocates of period leave argue that allowing women to take time off under the specific label of period pain will help reduce the stigma surround women's menstrual cycles. As it stands, it is still a fairly taboo subject and something that many women feel uncomfortable talking about, particularly within an employment setting. But offering this policy means being more honest and open about the female body which will ideally reduce the shame that can sometimes go with it.

In addition to this, reports suggest that Coexist manager Bex Baxter believes that allowing women to balance their work life alongside their menstrual cycle will benefit their team. The notion behind this is that when women are on their period their bodies are in a 'winter state' and need time to recoup. So in theory, by allowing them this they are more likely to come back to work feeling refreshed and motivated, thus increasing productivity.

Are there any drawbacks?

Some people have criticised the ethics of period leave. One report from Japan, where period leave has been available for almost seventy years, suggests that business women still don't feel comfortable taking it because 'it is basically broadcasting to the entire office which days of the month you have your period.' There were concerns that this could lead to sexual harassment and showing signs of weakness when 'trying to prove yourself in a man's world.'

Of course others may argue that the policy could be abused and isn't fair on men (or women who don't menstruate) within the same working environment. And since many women who suffer from exceptionally painful periods often have underlying medical conditions such as endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease, is the label 'period leave' really an accurate one anyway?

How are similar things managed?

This isn't the only area of women's health that needs consideration. With reports suggesting that 3.5 million over the age of 50 work, this means a lot could also be struggling with symptoms of the menopause in the workplace too. Unlike period pain, these symptoms can be constant and on average last for 4 years per woman! While there is currently no legislation in place regarding menopause, employment law does state that employers are responsible for the health and wellbeing of their staff and so supporting women through such a dramatic bodily change that can cause a range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms is important. Often their duties or hours may need to be revised and simple things like providing them with a fan or being lenient about toilet breaks could greatly reduce their discomfort. Ultimately it is important to reduce the stigma surrounding women's health issues and ensure that, whatever your company's policy in relation to leave is, they feel able to speak out if they are struggling and have their concerns dealt with sensitively and respectfully.


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