Expanding Leave Benefits: Menstrual Leave

The taboo topic of menstruation is slowly making its way into the workplace. Spain’s government has taken on the task of drafting a law that would provide unlimited paid ”menstrual leave” from work. This leave is a part of more broad legislation addressing reproductive rights including the extension of abortion rights, eliminating the requirement for parental consent for 16-17 year-olds to terminate a pregnancy, and lowering the VAT on feminine hygiene products and offering free period products in social and educational centers. 

Countries such as Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea, and Zambia already have menstrual leave policies in place.  

Menstrual leave policies tend to spark quite the debate. One of the many questions is whether the policy will help or hinder women in the workplace. Would companies avoid hiring women in roles for fear of them utilizing this leave? Would employers retaliate for use of the policy by not promoting women? 

“It’s such a lightning rod for feminists,” Elizabeth Hill, an associate professor at the University of Sydney who has extensively studied menstrual leave policies worldwide, told Euronews Next. “Is it liberating? Are these policies that recognize the reality of our bodies at work and seek to support them? Or is this a policy that stigmatizes, embarrasses, is a disincentive for employing women?”  

While menstrual leave isn’t common in the United States, some companies are beginning to embrace and address the topic. From a legal and labor perspective, the proper way to implement this leave can get complicated.  

Menstrual leave policies are different from sick leave, because they apply only to menstruators — and, more specifically, those who are of menstruating age and have an intact reproductive system,” said Melinda S. Malecki, an attorney with Malecki Brooks Law Group in Illinois. “Employers can implement policies as they see fit, so long as they’re not illegal and don’t create illegal discrimination, such as policies that discriminate based on race, gender or age,” she said. 

Malecki went on to discuss the need for state or federal level legislation to protect employers from potential discrimination claims from anyone not considered to be a menstruator.  

There’s also the question of proof. Would an employer require proof of menstruation? Spain’s policy focuses on women with dysmenorrhea. Some companies simply make the leave available, and all menstruators must do is make their supervisors aware that they’re taking the day off, no questions asked. Requirements vary and have the potential to create a stigma based on implementation. 

Historically women have been treated as inferior and excluded in the workforce. Will menstrual leave policies recreate the inferiority from the not-so-distant past, or propel the workforce into a new level of feminist support?