Menstrual Leave Is Controversial, But It Has Moral and Economic Benefits to Workplaces
Wed, April 14, 2021

Menstrual Leave Is Controversial, But It Has Moral and Economic Benefits to Workplaces


An increasing number of companies have taken steps to promote gender equality in the workplace, reported Hannah Sparks of New York Post, a daily newspaper in New York City. In fact, many of them have announced a policy that allows women and transgenders to avail paid sick leave for period symptoms.

For example, Indian food and dining platform Zomato said, that women working in the company are entitled to have up to 10 annual period leaves, according to its post on Twitter. Zomato’s initiative was created for the sake of “truth and acceptance.” In the US, most women will experience about 450 periods in their lifetime, which is between 1,350 and 2,250 or so days of struggling with uncomfortable and often painful symptoms. Symptoms range from abdominal cramps— which can be mild to debilitating— as well as lower back pain, diarrhea, sore breasts, breakouts, and more.   

Productivity Loss Caused By Menstruation-Related Symptoms (2019)

44,173 women completed the initiated survey questionnaire, excluding those who did not report their date of birth or whose age did not fulfill the inclusion criteria, said Mark E. Schoep and colleagues of BMJ Open, a leading multidisciplinary medical journal. The researchers revealed that 45.4% of women visited a doctor for menstrual complaints in the past, with 9.2% mentioning a diagnosis of a menstrual disorder like endometriosis or fibroids.

A total of 7,335 or 22.4% of women said that they are both working and studying more than five hours per week. 3,001 women in this group spent over 16 hours a week working whereas 5,284 spend more than 16 hours a week studying. Overall, respondents reported absenteeism caused by menstruation-related symptoms (MRS) for ≤0.5 day (13.8%), one day (1.6%), two days (3.6%), three days (1.1%), and more than three days (0.6%). A total of 13.8% of women reported absenteeism.

At work, the respondents said they were absent for ≤0.5 day (1.4%), one day (5.7%), two days (2.9%), three days (0.8%), and more than three days (0.4%). Overall, absenteeism at work was reported by 11.2% of women. When studying, the women were absent for ≤0.5 day (2.7%), one day (10.5%), two days (4.8%), three days (1%), and more than three days (0.5%). Overall, 19.6% of women reported absenteeism when studying.

81.4% of women reported presenteeism at work and at school, the figure was at 84.3%. In total, 80.7% reported presenteeism. Among respondents who had been calling in sick due to menstruation-related symptoms, 20.1% mentioned said symptoms to their employer or school as their reason. 27.7% did not give a reason whereas 5.8% made up another reason. The authors then compared women aged 21 years and under with women aged 21 years and above. They found that younger women were less open about their menstruation-related symptoms being the reason for calling sick (12%) unlike 27% of older women.

When asked about the suggestions they could give to workplaces in order for the women to function better during their menstrual cycle, they cited more flexibility (67.7%) like doing less physical work (32.1%), the ability to work from home (39.5%), more time for personal care (28.3%) or the ability to take a day off and make up for it later (11.5%). Only 32.9% of women wished they could take a complete day off without any consequences.

27.2% did not wish for their workplaces to change their policy while 79.7% were open to discussing menstruation-related symptoms with their company doctors. 56.7% thought that doing that would draw more attention to MRS-related concerns.



Period Leave Is Controversial, But Some Countries Already Have Such Policies

Period leaves is still a subject controversy, said Julia Wuench of business news Forbes. Emily Matchar from The Atlantic, said, “Do these policies simply further the notion that women are weak, hormonally-addled creatures controlled by their uteri? On the other hand, Matchar also asked if menstrual leaves foster more gender quality to accommodate female workers’ biological demands, just like maternity leave.

Aside from Zomato, there are other countries that offer menstrual leaves to working women. For example, employees in South Korea can take one day off each month, stated Jacqueline Howard of American news channel CNN. The country’s menstrual leave has been practiced since 2001.

However, few employees in male-dominated workplaces exercise their right to take a day off, reported Jung Min-ho, Kim Bo-eun, and Bahk Eun-ji of Korea Times, one of the oldest of three English-language newspapers published every day in South Korea. In China’s Anhui province, it introduced a new rule in 2016 to allow women who have severe menstrual pain to take one to two days off each work, only after they present a note from a doctor.



The Benefits of Establishing Period Leaves

1. Retaining Talent

Cherie Hoeger, CEO and co-founder of Saalt argued that policies like menstrual leave help companies retain great talent, helping them save tens of thousands of dollars for every worker that a firm retains. Policies that make workers feel understood and supported, including those that prompt employees to do their best even during difficult situations will bolster employee loyalty. This will enable companies to improve their long term employee retention.

2. Increasing Productivity and Preventing Productivity Loss

Presenteeism is when women are at work but they are less productive due to MRS. According to Joe Connolly, founder and CEO of Visana Health, employers are trading it for menstrual leave. He added that endometriosis and other conditions contribute to increased workplace stress. Hence, employers with menstrual policies should sympathize with women suffering from menstrual disorders, as they often fear disclosing MRS to their superiors. Menstruation has been stigmatized for thousands of years even if it’s a normal bodily function and a critical aspect of life.

A poll commissioned by THINX, an innovative periods solutions firm and manufacturer of period-proof underwear, found that 58% of women felt a sense of embarrassment because they were menstruating, cited Valerie Siebert of New York Post. 42% of women even experienced period-shaming, with one in five reporting that the comments were made by a male friend. With employers showing sympathy to their female employees, this will lead to improved employee satisfaction and reduced rates of turnover.



Is It a Good Idea to Group Period Leave and Sick Leave Together?

Connolly said women experience a “cyclical, biologically-driven pain” unlike men. That pain can cause female employees to feel uncomfortable at work. More often than not, women have to conceal their menstrual leave as “not feeling well today.” Separating period leave from overall sick leave will help comfort female workers, encouraging them to recuperate at home.


More workplaces are enforcing period leaves to help women recover from MRS. Employers should sympathize with female workers to help them feel safe and understood. Period shaming should be condemned in the workplace to promote gender equality in the workplace.