Fri 03 Jun 2022

Menstrual leave - could suffering in silence from period pain at work be a thing of the past?

A number of UK charities are calling on the government to bring in menstrual leave for employees who suffer from period pain. This call is as a result of the Spanish Cabinet approving a draft bill permitting paid time off work for workers who suffer from menstrual pain - three days off a month with a doctor's note (five in extreme circumstances). 

This follows countries such as Japan, Zambia, and Indonesia, which have menstrual leave policies already in place. Currently, UK employment law states that a worker should use sick leave if they require time off work due to menstruation, but does more need to be done?

Period related symptoms can include severe pain, cramping, fatigue, diarrhoea, concentration, headaches, and fever. Anxiousness about the possibility of leaks in the workplace is also very real.  For those who suffer from conditions such as endometriosis, fibroids or pelvic inflammatory disease these symptoms can be exacerbated and severe.

As a menstruating working woman, I am all too familiar with the crippling pain and other side effects that a monthly period can bring and the effect it can have on individuals in the workplace. At the start of my career, I remember worrying about making it through some days in the office or when I was out at court. I would often suffer in silence as I ran back and forth to the toilets, kept topped up on painkillers and sat with a hot water bottle hidden under my desk. As I have progressed, I have been more open with my colleagues, and found understanding.

For me the question is whether menstrual leave legislation is what is needed or whether more needs to be done to de-stigmatise periods in the workplace. This is something that I, as part of the Women's Group, at Morton Fraser have been working on. We recently worked with HR to put in place a Menopause and Periods policy which we released on International Women's Day. The policy sets out the firm's intention to create an environment where employees can openly and honestly discuss periods and menopause; to provide advice and information to managers about symptoms and support for employees; to encourage employees ask for support/adjustments to sustain their attendance at work; and to recognise that the menopause is an individual experience, and that people can be affected in different ways.

The policy was well received with a lot of positive feedback from staff. However, it was clear that this was a topic that some people were uncomfortable discussing.

In a post-pandemic era where flexible working is possible and it is generally recognised that an ill employee should work from home where possible, it should also be acknowledged that menstruating employees, who are experiencing painful symptoms, should not feel like they need to suffer in in silence. Employees should be afforded flexibility and understanding in how, where and when they work without fear of repercussion. They should feel like they can discuss these issues openly with their managers, but this will only happen in an environment where they feel supported and empowered to do so.

I am glad to be working at an organisation taking positive strides in this area. In addition to the policy Morton Fraser also supports the 'buy one give one' social enterprise company - Hey Girls - whose aim is to end period poverty by providing sanitary products to those who struggle to afford them. In our office toilets Hey Girl products are available for staff members to use. The fact that the firm aligns itself with a period positive organisation sends an important message to menstruating employees - that it supports period dignity and doesn’t shy away from the discussion.

Time will tell as to whether the UK government adopts an official policy of menstrual leave, but regardless, there needs to be a cultural and organisational shift in discussing menstruation. A policy is all well and good in theory but may not make a huge difference if people feel they cannot make use of it   - whether that is through embarrassment or fear of how it may impact their career.

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