Workplace Menstrual Leave: Should HR Consider It?

February 7, 2023

Offering robust parental leave for new parents is considered standard these days at any employer of choice. But introduce the idea of period or menstrual leave, and you’ll often hear crickets.

This is despite the fact that about 40% of people who have periods report that their menstrual pain is so severe that they have to miss work or school. Studies have also found that on average, women perceive themself to be about 33% less productive on those days resulting in a mean of 8.9 days of total lost productivity per year due to presenteeism. 

Employers may not realise the severity of the problem in their workforce. In reality, according to UK-based period charity Bloody Good Period, 73% of people who menstruate report that their period made it difficult for them to do their work. 79% of employees cite pain as a reason, although it is not the only symptom that can impact productivity.

As the saying goes, something’s got to give. Enter paid menstrual leave. 

What is Menstrual Leave?

Menstrual leave, also known colloquially as a period policy, is a workplace policy that allows employees who experience periods to take time off work during that time in their cycle. It is often given in addition to standard sick leave. Generally, it is understood that employees will only utilise the policy when their period hinders their ability to work—like when they’re in pain from cramps, for instance. 

How Does Paid Menstrual Leave Benefit Employees and Employers?

On average, women experience a menstrual cycle, or “period” until age 51. And more than half report having pain around their period. Additionally, female employees with other hormonal disorders like Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and Endometriosis may experience extreme pain, nausea, heavy or irregular menstruation, blood clots, depression, or constipation during their periods.  

These symptoms can majorly impact women as they attempt to excel in the workplace – especially as the topic of periods has historically been considered incredibly taboo at work. 

Allowing employees to take sick leave because of period pain can help them seek the help they need, increase productivity, and boost morale. Plus, companies with menstrual leave are often seen as more supportive employers, leading to increased retention. 

Is Menstrual Leave Covered by Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)?

According to UK law, employees facing extreme menstrual pain or other related issues should take sick leave. Unfortunately, Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is not provided for the initial 3 days of absence. This means that most people who need to take time off because of their periods, likely would not be absent for more than 3 days. Therefore, if their employer does not provide contractual sick pay, the employee will not receive any income during their off time. If sick leave is required regularly, this could result in substantial financial loss.

It is also possible that staff taking time off due to menstrual health issues could exceed sickness attendance thresholds. An indirect gender discrimination lawsuit could result if the employer is aware of the employee’s reason for absence. It is common also for employees to feel hesitant to discuss their periods with their supervisors. This may be associated with their fertility and/or menopause and could affect other categories of workers who menstruate but do not consider themselves women. Additionally, some could be concerned that asking for time off for menstrual health purposes might make them seem vulnerable or incapable.

What are the Drawbacks of Period Leave? 

One of the main arguments against implementing a menstrual leave policy is that a generous reasonable sick leave policy should easily cover the days that women need off for both sickness and their periods. 

Other arguments against letting employees take sick leave for menstrual issues usually include that it’s not equitable for men or that it could be abused. 

So What’s the Consensus?

Offering period leave at your company is really an employer’s choice – but there are major positives that can come from it, perhaps most importantly being considered an empathetic, inclusive business.

Discover our comprehensive resources dedicated to supporting women’s health in the workplace here! 

Women's Health