Would You Ever Take Period Leave?
The week of May 16, 2022, Spain is due to vote on a policy that would offer people with severe period pain three days of menstrual leave per month as well as provide free sanitary napkins in schools. If this passes, the country will become the first in Europe to offer any kind of policy addressing the extreme pain that often accompanies conditions like endometriosis, dysmenorrhea, and fibroids, among others. This could be a huge leap forward in addressing the very real needs of people with these conditions. However, if similar policies that already exist in Japan, parts of China, South Korea, Taiwan, Zambia, and at a handful of private sector companies are any indication of their effectiveness, there are still factors that often prevent those who need these policies from actually utilizing them.
Many people fear taking advantage of these policies because of the already pervasive stigma that exists regarding not just menstruation, but women in business. They fear repercussions including being skipped over for promotional opportunities because of their disability, something that is a very real concern. Others fear that their identity will be disclosed without their consent if a doctor’s note is required. Menstruation is not limited to those who identify as female, and implicit and explicit bias based on gender or sexual orientation means non-binary and transgender people who menstruate may be less likely to take advantage of the policy.
Still, given all of these considerations, if I had the opportunity to utilize a menstrual leave policy, I’d jump at it. I’m well aware that as a white cisgender heterosexual female, I have privileges that many others don’t and I want to fully acknowledge that my enthusiasm for a policy like this is absolutely influenced by this privilege. But it also comes from the perspective of having experienced decades of trying to negotiate going to school and work during endometriosis flare-ups and excruciating, debilitating periods.
The truth is that even without policies like this in place I still called in sick… a lot. But every time I did, I worried that I’d be disciplined or otherwise punished for doing so. For every morning of my cycle that I laid on my bed in the fetal position exhausted from a night of little to no sleep, wondering if I could somehow muster the strength to get myself up and go to work, there were days that I simply had no choice. I knew that even if my performance would be subpar, I had to go. I couldn’t afford to call in again, not just because I wouldn’t get paid, but because my employment very much depended upon my showing up.
Even when I had a salaried job where my income revolved around my completing the necessary tasks within a 40-hour work week regardless of whether that occurred by working five eight-hour shifts or four 10-hour ones, I always felt obligated to make up for the day/s that I did call in by overcompensating on other days. I’d ensure that I was available for extra hours or after hours when I was feeling well in a desperate attempt to make myself valuable in spite of what I considered to be a huge liability in having me as an employee. This isn’t a healthy or sustainable way to live or earn a living.
With all of that being said, a similar policy here in the U.S. would be a game changer for folks like me. I’d want certain caveats included in the wording of the policy, however, including something regarding anti-discrimination verbiage and the acknowledgment that the reason for the days off remains strictly private between the employer, employee, and medical professional issuing any necessary documentation. And as several articles have mentioned, mandatory education regarding female reproductive health encouraging the de-stigmatization of periods as something weak, pathological, or otherwise inferior would need to be a part of the implementation of the policy.
My condition was a liability regardless of whether or not I could legally claim it as such. Having my right to take time off because of my condition codified into law would simply provide me with legal protection under the law should I experience discrimination because of it. That would be a huge win, even if there would likely be a lot of litigation along the way to ensure fair and inclusive implementation of the law.
Getty image by Svetlana Larshina.