Should women have the right to take time off during their periods?

The Big Question: Nike introduced menstrual leave in 2007 – so is it time for other companies to follow suit

Hazel Sheffield
Wednesday 02 March 2016 14:36 GMT

Why are we asking this now?

A company in Bristol has decided to give its employees menstrual leave.

Coexist, the organisation behind a community arts centre in Stokes Croft, is planning to give employees the right to take time off that would not be regarded as sick leave.

Employees would be expected to make up time taken off for period pain, but they could stay at home while they were suffering without having to produce a sick note.

Could other companies follow suit?

Coexist seems to think so. It is holding a seminar on March 15 to discuss the idea with other employers and organisations.

Nike introduced menstrual leave in 2007 and makes business partners sign a memorandum of understanding to ensure they maintain the company’s standards.

Are there any laws in place at the moment that guarantee women that right?

Not in the UK or at EU level.

Japan is actually a pioneer in the field of menstrual leave. Japanese labour unions started to demand leave for female workers in the 1920s. By 1947, a law was brought in to force that allowed women to take days off work if there were suffering with period pain.

Similar laws now exist in South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

In English law, severe period pain could be considered a disability, according to lawyers.

Lynne Marr, a partner in the employment team at Brodies LLP, said that employers should be aware that severe period pain that is impacting on performance or attendance could amount to a physical impairment or be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, which could constitute a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

Should a law be introduced?

Marr said that menstrual leave could in effect be legislated, but that it would be very difficult to manage in practice.

"I imagine that this is something that could be legislated for, but it might seem unlikely given the UK Government’s attempts to cut red tape," she said.

"I also think it would be very difficult for employers to manage in practice - such as how to determine who suffered from pain. In some work forces it may create bad feeling and grievances about sex discrimination."

Some workers’ unions say that certain kinds of work can be hard for women during their periods. In 2005, the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union sought 12 days menstrual leave a year for women from Toyota.

The union said that standing, welding, painting and other production line work was especially tough on women during their menstrual cycle. But Toyota did not agree. To date only Nike is thought to have a dedicated policy for menstrual pain.

But scientific evidence shows that women could benefit from such policies. Studies have shown that, in general, women struggle to concentrate when they have period pain, becoming slower and less accurate.

What’s next?

Coexist is not offering paid leave for period pain. Instead it is allowing workers who might be suffering to rearrange their days accordingly, by allowing women to fulfill their hours flexibly.

That policy has been created as part of a debate: Pioneering Period Policy: Valuing Natural Cycles in the Workplace.

The seminar will take place on March 15 at Hamilton House in Stokes Croft.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in