Period Leave: What Does It Mean For Your Company?
Amended January 30 2023 - 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?
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.
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?
Menopause in the Workplace
With reports suggesting that 3.5 million over the age of 50 work, this means a lot of women 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 and MPs recently rejected making menopause a protected characteristic, 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. According to Caroline Jennings, employment and discrimination barrister at No5 Barristers’ Chambers:
"Although this news might be upsetting to hear, women need to know that the law is in their favour and is not abandoning them. Despite it not being explicitly provided for as a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010, discrimination by reason of menopause is covered by existing protected traits. The key issue we face as a nation is knowledge of legal rights and how to advocate for oneself on this basis.
"There are a number of existing protected characteristics within the Act that can be used in circumstances of discrimination relating to the menopause. Sex and Disability are the main two. Many people do not know that as the menopause can have a substantial long-term adverse effect on someone’s ability to perform everyday tasks, so it is frequently classed as a disability for the purpose of employment law. This same category would protect men with long-term medical conditions with a similar level of impact - thereby avoiding any suggestion of inequality of protection within the workplace.
"Although the law currently protects against discrimination due to the menopause, it’s up to businesses - both big and small - to ensure that they make the workplace as suitable as possible. This includes providing reasonable adjustments to accommodate symptoms. With 59% of working women between 45 and 55 saying hot flushes and insomnia have a negative impact on them at work, accommodations such as flexible hours and a more relaxed dress code can have a big impact (Women’s Health Strategy for England).
"The difficulty within ‘working Britain’ is the stigma and lack of education that has historically surrounded menopause. The law is there to protect women, but they often do not know their rights and even if they do, they may be embarrassed to speak up for themselves. Nine out of 10 women feel unable to talk to their manager regarding menopause due to feeling like it’s a taboo subject.
"Removal of stigma and normalisation is key to progress in this field. Many large employers, including the NHS, have introduced ‘ menopause champions’ and training to create a positive support network and increase awareness. Having a designated person to talk to means employees will have someone on hand to offer vital support to those experiencing perimenopause and menopause symptoms as well as helping them navigate their jobs during this time. Not all businesses can provide this, but the hope is that as general awareness increases, women will feel more able to advocate for themselves.
"Even though the Women and Equalities committee report did not have the outcome many had hoped for, people need to know that legislation which protects them in these circumstances is already there and is readily available through a quick internet search. If you are facing discrimination at work due to the menopause, the best course of action is to contact a lawyer who can help walk you through your options."