Period Leave Is A Thing, And It Shouldn't Be Controversial

Periods are a part of life, but not everyone experiences them the same way. For those living with certain health conditions, that time of the month can mean more than just a mild inconvenience. Hormonal shifts during one's cycle can result in symptoms that range from irritating to debilitating, like persistent migraines, nausea, and abdominal cramping. And while balancing your hormones may sound like a solution, it's only one part of the puzzle for many people battling painful periods. In fact, it can take up to a decade after developing symptoms before patients receive an endometriosis diagnosis, a disorder commonly associated with menstrual pain, per Yale Medicine. Furthermore, treating cyclical pain is a delicate, individualized process that may not always alleviate one's symptoms entirely.

Many people struggle with period pain so severe that it affects their ability to function in the workplace. During the peak of one's cycle, it's not uncommon for those with conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis to need prolonged rest to manage their symptoms. Although a growing number of countries provide period leave policies to those affected by painful menses, the overwhelming majority have zero protections in place for workers affected by dysmenorrhea, or painful menstruation. Though period leave shouldn't be something controversial, it's attracted the attention of some very vocal opponents. So what is period leave, and why has it caused such a divide?

What is period leave?

If you've ever been doubled over with cramps while on the clock, you can understand why period leave exists. Regardless of one's line of work, menstrual aches and pains can be unpredictable and exhausting, leading to impaired performance and productivity throughout the day. Though plenty of people can relate to simply working through this type of discomfort, period leave exists as a means to help workers who suffer from painful menstruation find relief.

Period leave, or menstrual leave, is a policy that gives people the option to take time off from work during their menstrual cycle. Some countries provide period leave as a legal right to all working citizens impacted by painful menses. In areas without government-implemented period leave programs, private companies occasionally offer similar policies to their employees. For instance, Indian food-delivery company Zomato gives employees ten days of period leave per year. This type of leave can be paid or unpaid and typically, workers can stay home and rest as they would with traditional sick leave, though some private companies provide "menstrual work from home" accommodations instead.

Countries with active period leave policies

Despite the need for period leave, government-implemented policies for menstruating workers are relatively rare across the globe. Only a handful of countries currently have menstrual leave policies in place, and the length of time off provided to employees can vary by region. In some countries, period leave may last as long as the duration of one's cycle. Others, like Zambia, provide only one day per month. Spain is the latest country to adopt period leave as a national policy, offering employees who menstruate up to five days off from work each month.

Though period leave was first documented in Russia during the early 1900s, Japan has one of the oldest existing period leave policies in the world, having originated in the 1920s. Still, not everyone offered period leave utilizes the practice. In Japan, for instance, less than one in ten workers given period leave regularly make use of it. According to survey results published by Nikkei, there are several reasons why workers refuse menstrual leave, one being due to feeling uncomfortable asking for menstrual leave from male employers. "If you tell people you're taking leave because of your period, that will be seen as you're not as good as men," Yumiko Murakami, former head of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Tokyo Center, told CNN.

Why some have spoken out against period leave

For those affected by illnesses like PCOS, PMDD, and endometriosis, the ability to rest during the most painful days of their cycle is crucial. Others, however, view the concept of period leave as a controversial matter. But why? 

In the eyes of period leave detractors, the practice could threaten feminist values, draw more stigma toward menstruation, or even affect the pay and treatment of menstruating workers. According to a study published in "Health Care for Women International," researchers also found that those against period leave were concerned with what "men get," and some suggested that workers who have painful menses "just deal with it."

Of course, those who suffer from intense monthly pain would argue that such comments should be disregarded. Period leave is an optional accommodation that supports workers from all walks of life, including women, and non-binary and transgender individuals. Having access to protected time off and flexible scheduling is an invaluable asset to anyone who suffers from painful menses or ailments exacerbated by cyclical changes. Furthermore, refusal to offer menstrual accommodations doesn't change the fact that painful periods can have a negative effect on employee attendance and productivity. Many workers use sick leave or unpaid leave on the most arduous days of their cycle regardless of whether or not period leave is available to them. For example, research published in "BMJ Open" revealed that up to 14% of Dutch women surveyed reported missing work due to their periods.

What the future holds for period leave

While some governments may be slow to adopt national period leave policies, countless private companies are implementing accommodations for workers in the meantime. In countries like Australia, several businesses now offer menstrual leave programs. One is Future Super, a superannuation fund that established a successful paid period and menopausal leave policy in 2017. "Since introducing it in January, 22% of our teams to which the policy applies have accessed this leave," Khalia Prasser, Future Super employee and policy advisor, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Those who request menstrual or menopausal leave are not required to provide any medical documentation and may take up to six paid days off from work annually.

In America, period leave has become an increasingly pertinent topic in the fight for improved worker rights. A recent survey from revealed that nearly 80% of men and women supported paid menstrual leave, though older respondents were more likely to reject the idea. "I worked when I was on my period. Take some painkillers and deal with it," one participant wrote. Charming as such advice may be, American companies are beginning to offer period leave – and it seems that more could follow suit.

Though period leave certainly has its detractors, it stands to help millions of workers stave off burnout and protect their overall well-being. As the world moves toward embracing self-care and better work-life balance, we may see more substantial period leave policies introduced in the future.