Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Should Women Get Menstrual Leave?

December 1st, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

A small article in the Toronto Observer (apparently published last week but just showing up in my RSS reader today) reports on the work of Yara Doleh, an independent scholar who recently presented a lecture titled “Menstruation and Stigma” at the Centre for Women’s Studies in Education (CWSE). The content of her lecture is not available, but the paper reports that

Doleh wants to implement a menstruation leave in Canada; it would give women the option of taking a day off work when menstruating.

“A few countries such as Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia and South Korea have already granted menstruation leave to their female workforce,” she said. “We’re only fighting for one day … and I don’t think it would be costly.”

I have a hard time supporting such a proposal. Certainly, women who are in pain or ill during menstruation should be able to leave work or phone in sick. But won’t current policies regarding sick leave and personal days accommodate all but the most intractable dysmenorrhea? I don’t know how it would be implemented in Canada, but under the U.S. legal system, menstrual leave might be construed as an unfair benefit, available only to one segment of the workforce, i.e., those who menstruate.*

Instituting menstrual leave seems a sure path to increasing stigma of menstruation, rather than reducing it, in the current cultural climate. It is not, however, as stigmatizing as the red bracelet one boss in Norway apparently requires female employees to wear when they are menstruating.

*Remember, not all women menstruate and not only women menstruate, so such a policy could not be restricted to women.

  

19 Responses to “Should Women Get Menstrual Leave?”

  1. Morgan says:

    In my opinion, the only thing that such a policy would do is to further the idea that menstruation is an “illness” or something that makes menstruators less able or capable than non-menstruators. Obviously if someone has severe cramps etc. they should be able to take a sick-day without question.

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  3. Sarah says:

    I disagree with both of you. First of all, yes, actually severe menstruation episodes DO make some women less capable on those days/ hours than non-menstruators. And 2nd, I don’t think it’s fair that people with frequently awful menstruation should have to lose 12 or more days a year of their sick leave; they get sick like anyone else! Most people in the U.S. barely get any sick leave at all. I think the best thing to do is once a women is hired, she should be able to get a note from her doctor if she suffers from frequent, disabling severe cramps. Then she should be able to give that note to an administrator and be allotted, say, 10 extra days of sick leave a year. That simple. And if people want to “stigmatize,” well, people stigmatize women with young children as workers, but frankly they need more flexibility from their places of work and people just have to give way to the reality.

  4. Tori says:

    I can see both sides of it — though this is coming from a US-centric viewpoint.

    On the one hand, no, my current sick/personal leave is not enough to cover all the times I feel like my period is well and truly trying to kill me. (And I have a job with a pretty good sick time policy.) Even with the time off I do take (which is not every cycle), there are probably 2-3 additional days per cycle when I’m at work but really shouldn’t be. On that level, any recourse to additional sanctioned time off I got would be well appreciated.

    On the other, I’m already very stingy with the amount of time I allow myself to take off for menstrual-related reasons. For one, I need to ration it, yes. But another reason is because I feel like, over the course of my life, a lot of folks — including parents, teachers/professors, doctors, coworkers, and bosses — have already been extremely skeptical of citing dysmenorrhea and/or menorrhagia as the reason for an absence. There’s a tendency to sort of downgrade it as an “excuse” that’s really “just cramps.”

    I don’t see that stigma changing any time soon, which makes me pretty mistrustful of sharing when I’m taking “menstrual leave” (and therefore when I’m menstruating) with my bosses. What comes out my vagina is all kinds of Not Their Business.

  5. Re: “she should be able to get a note from her doctor if she suffers from frequent, disabling severe cramps.”

    Not just a note, but a plan to heal from “frequent, disabling cramps.”

    Great book: Premenstrual Syndrome and You, Next Month Can Be Different

    http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=3694067304&searchurl=ds%3D30%26isbn%3D9780671472429%26n%3D100121501%26sortby%3D17

    People get a leave of absence for drug rehab, physical rehab etc.

    If getting a day or so off for your period in the process of “menstrual rehab,” this would fall under sick pay or leave of absence or however a company construes it.

    It may be, though, in the process of menstrual rehab, you might decide you can’t STAND your job, and you A) start organizing a union in your workplace B) post a video on YouTube about how awful the working conditions are, C) try to figure out some other field to go into, etc. Or there are no jobs, so you decide to run for office as some (supposedly) unelectable superprogressive.

    Not a health care professional, so can only speak from personal experience – but you can go from having miserable periods and verging on suicide PMS to just a plain old period! Diet, exercise and stress reduction. All three. May take a few cycles to see the effects…

    Speaking as a person who’s been “formula-ed out” of ANY paid time off…you know, there’s a formula to calculate whether you meet the criteria for getting paid time off…and surprise, the whole thing’s tilted toward always falling just a little teeny-weeny bit short…I got a chuckle out of someone’s (online) (anonymous) assessment of the pay at my company: “STARVING.”

    I don’t want paid time off for a period…I want paid time off for a union.

  6. PS I work in a female-dominated field…let me rephrase that…I work in a female worker-dominated field, but male-dominated upper management.

  7. Natalie says:

    Yes! Women should DEFINITELY get menstrual leave if requested. It’s not fair to have to use sick time when you’re not well but aren’t actually sick!

    This applies to me personally on two levels. First of all, I endure cramping so bad that I’m bedridden, can’t walk and have to take heavy doses of morphine. However, this, for my body is completely natural – I do not have endometriosis or any type of uteran sickness.

    Second, I suffer from serious PMDD. When my PMS/PMDD hits, the hormones aggravate my mind to the point of suicidality, on occasion, and I once was hospitalized for it before. It’s called PMDD, or, pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder. However, in my opinion, it’s still a part of the natural process. It’s not the same as needing sick time for a flu, pneumonia, etc. I do take medication for this and it does help, but I’m still too depressed to function and usually can’t work during this time – which is, two days before my period, sometimes three; my cramping lasts for two to three days as well, and in general, the average time I would take off was four days.

    I believe that both of these problems are natural to my body, and I should be allowed to take time off from work without using up sick time, because I’m not actually sick! Fortunately in the past, my workplace considered this “a reasonable accommodation” and I didn’t have to use up all my available sick time hours.

    So should menstrual leave be a stated right for every woman who menstruates and works?

    I feel like implementing this could put more stigma on menstruation, reinforcing the idea that menstruation is some sort of worldwide feminine illness that makes women weaker than men. However, a reasonable accommodation for extreme cases of PMDD and dysmennorea should DEFINITELY be put into a bill to be voted on. It would keep a large majority of women from abusing the allowance, make the stigma less so than it would be if it were put in as a workers’ right, making women look weak, but would HAVE to allow certain cases of menstruation to have time off without using sick time, since it’s not truly an illness.

    That’s my opinion!

  8. Elizabeth Kissling says:

    Thanks for all the comments, you awesome re:Cycling readers!

    Tori and Natalie, I hope I don’t seem unsympathetic; as I said in the post, I do think women who are in pain or ill during menstruation should be able to leave work or phone in sick. Natalie, I noticed you used the phrase “reasonable accommodation”, which is frequently associated with implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the U.S., a law that requires workplaces to accommodate workers with disabilities. Perhaps PMDD and dysmenorrhea are (or could be) regarded as disabilities under the law? (I wrote about menstruation as disability here at re:Cycling about a year ago.)

    The thing about menstrual leave and stigma, at least in the current cultural climate of the U.S., is not only that menstruators would be stigmatized, but I fear a federal mandate of menstrual leave would likely lead to employers hiring fewer women, as they would be perceived as “more expensive” employees. And perhaps as less reliable or consistent workers, as well.

  9. Tori says:

    Elizabeth, you definitely don’t come across as unsympathetic to me.

    As for regarding severe menstrual difficulties as disability requiring accommodation, part of the problem there is that disability as a whole is pretty stigmatized. At a number of the places I’ve worked, accommodating disability — particularly not-readily-visible disability — tends to be viewed as something of a hassle. And there’s a good chance that some coworkers (and supervisors) will view the person requesting accommodation as whining or otherwise exaggerating in order to receive “special treatment.”

    I’ve made requests for much smaller accommodations than additional time off and had those requests conveniently ignored. I could push for them; my employer could choose to fire me outright (less likely) or choose not to renew my contract (more realistic possibility). I could choose to pursue legal action, but that would mean finding a lawyer and negotiating a suit while looking for and starting another job.

    Basically, regardless of how my menstrual issues are classified, for me, the stigma doesn’t go away.

  10. Re: “I’ve made requests for much smaller accommodations than additional time off and had those requests conveniently ignored. I could push for them; my employer could choose to fire me outright (less likely) or choose not to renew my contract (more realistic possibility). I could choose to pursue legal action,”

    What’s interesting here to me is, the “I” rather than the “we” – What if Tori and Natalie both worked at the same company? So there you are at lunch, and you start talking, and the whole issue of menstrual leave comes up…and maybe there are a group of 4 or 5 women who have lunch together (hmmm, have I noticed employees splitting up by gender when they eat lunch? Yes, I think I have, though that’s anecdotal, function of female vs. male dominated departments in a company…) (not trying to be sexist, just what I’ve seen as a temp at various companies).

    And maybe there’d be a woman there who had a lot of menstrual difficulties, but she’d been able to overcome them…so they get the idea to have a menstrual get-together of some kind, or a notice in the company newsletter…the focus on menstrual health rather than disability…why not a Menstrual Monday potluck? :)

    But would a woman with menstrual difficulties as a manager/supervisor/executive/researcher exactly want to participate with, say, female admininstrative assistants in a menstrual health seminar/workshop of some kind? If a union made it possible, then on principle I guess women managers wouldn’t participate? Or vice versa?

    Oh well, just some thoughts. I just remember my surprise, temping at a bank headquarters, the weirdness of the lunch room, full of women, almost 100% women (did I even see any men?), then hand-carrying some document up to the top floors (management) – that’s where all the men were (besides IT). Strange, strange (overt, in your face) gender stratification.

  11. Yara says:

    Greetings to all,
    I have just finished reading all your comments, and I am sorry I had just the chance to see this today Elizabeth.
    The whole idea of the menstruation leave, is somewhat double sided; it can have a positive effect on women, yet, the negative effect could even be larger. I did in fact mention the side effects and the importance of major work that has to be done before implementing such a law, if possible.
    Since the article was published and I have been in constant struggle regarding this whole issue. As
    my focus at the end of my lecture was mainly on the educational part. In specific, I would like the women themselves to give notice and absorb fully the knowledge of their menstrual process and understand their body needs. Once they do that, and of course this is not an easy process, they would know how to treat their body according to its needs and they won’t be in need for the mercy of society after all and ask for menstruation leave.
    The need to understand women is of outstanding importance in some professions, such as those of teacher, social worker, marriage guidance counsellor, forewoman, etc. but the social responsibility of greater understanding belongs to everyone.
    Ancient societies with its many taboos had the virtue that men actually recognized when women were menstruating. And the whole idea of women going into “seclusion” during those days has much to recommend it, but one does wonder what would be the effect on the national productivity of millions of women employees taking few days off each month.
    See there is a lot of research to be done behind this; questions to be asked, interviews to be done, and please I kindly ask anyone who has any comments, ideas, criticism, or anything they would like to share to e-mail me on the following: yara_doleh@hotmail.com.
    Please I kindly ask you to visit my blog: http://divinarchaeology.blogspot.com/

    Thank you all (especially Elizabeth),

    Yara

  12. Yara says:

    Elizabeth, I will hopefully be attending the conference taking place this coming June, may be we can meet then. Cheers.

  13. Dr T Jaffrey says:

    As Corporate Medical Adviser in a private company – ( my comments/recommendations are for FEMALE LEAVE ) which in all fairness to both Female employees & employers ; I would recommend a maximum of 12 days per year to be considered as Menstrual Period Leave out of which 6 days paid and 6 days unpaid.
    Keeping in mind the trend in Middle East where there is paid annual leave of 30 days even though the employment is only for a year. Also there is provision of Maternity Leave which is 4 weeks before and 10 to 12 weeks after delivery.

  14. Dr T Jaffrey says:

    Greetings to all.
    Further to my above comments/recommendations;there are occassions where there is proven abuse/misuse viz: a track record of repeatedly availing a day off or two(paid)on grounds of Medical Reasons (a name given for Female Monthly Cycle to maintain confidentiality/privacy)>>for example reporting phone sick on Tue & Wednesday (now Thursday + Friday being official day off (recently weekend changed to Friday + Saturday)>> so making along weekend off almost every month !

    The following is break-up of total Leaves per year :-

    a- 1-2 days/month x 12 = 12 to 24 days/year (Menstrual
    related)
    b- 30 days paid vacation/year
    c- 1 day in September as National Day
    d- 5 days Eid (Ramadaan)- End of Muslim Fasting month
    e- 8 days Haj – Muslim Yearly Pilgrimage(irrespective
    pilgrimage undertaken or not)
    f- 12 to 15 days/year average sick reporting for minor ail
    ailments

    Total = 71 days paid leave/year + Maternity Leave(selected
    > not all female staff.

    How far this is in fairness to private employers ?

    So Hence the bottom line recommendations should be that botboth >> the employer & the employees have to be fair to eaceach other and work out a practical & honest solution to share the responsibilities for a harmonious working environment.

    Since Menstruation and related pains/cramps etc can safely be controlled to a great extent by timely use of simple medications like Bruffen,Buscopan,primperan etc(better on advise by a Physician)and most of the females know prior to the acute onset, so why not start medications ahead and feel healthy and productive.
    A maximum break of 2-3 hours that very day of discomfort should help overcome the undesirable symptoms.

    In short >>> a maximum of 6 days paid/6 days unpaid leave/year + 2 to 3 hours of break on that specific miserable day + timely use of medications prior start of symptoms and ensuring PHONE SICK REPORTING NOT on repeated near weekends ( abuse/misuse) >> should be a good solution
    for all !!

    Kindly publish my e-mail for comments from anyone.
    drjaffrey@gmail.com
    Awaiting comments – Dr TJ

  15. Dr T Jaffrey says:

    Thanks for your compliments !

  16. Daniel says:

    If someone is not up to work because of severe menstrual cramps just take a sick day.

  17. [...] neither does the United States.” (We’ve written about menstrual leave at re:Cycling in 2010 and again earlier this [...]

  18. [...] Fortunately, The Society for Menstruation does not think special paid time off is needed as a policy, and says women who are in pain or ill during menstruation should be able to leave work or phone in sick. (I actually wrote that with a straight face) [...]

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Readers should note that statements published in re: Cycling are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Society as a whole.