Labor backbencher Suzanne Orr is calling for the ACT Government to consider paid menstruation and menopause leave for its employees – and the very suggestion of time off for periods has got some people in a complete tizz.
How ridiculous, you might say, to think women and people who menstruate should get special treatment for suffering through periods! That’s up to seven days a month of leave! Menopause symptoms can last a decade! It’s just impractical!
First of all, everyone who is triggered by the idea of menstruation/menopause leave should take a nice calming breath and be assured that the proposal isn’t for every menstruating employee to access seven days of paid leave a month for their period or for menopausal employees to enjoy constant access to paid leave for symptoms.
The idea is to make additional paid personal leave accessible for periods and/or menopause symptoms without the existing stigma attached to it.
This isn’t a new concept.
Japan has had a form of menstrual leave in place since 1947, and Indonesia and Vietnam each have their own versions as well. Those countries haven’t seen a collapse of their workforce due to flagrant abuse of paid menstrual leave allowances. In fact, the limitations placed around accessing the leave (including the requirement for a medical certificate in some countries) mean it’s barely even taken up.
And the principles underlying the push for paid menstrual leave are good ones – the idea is that women who suffer from extreme period pain or conditions like endometriosis are debilitated from working during their periods, but the stigma around menstruation and the lack of understanding of its impacts in the workplace can prevent them from using personal leave when needed. By clearly stating menstruation and menopause as accepted reasons to access personal leave and allocating additional days, workplaces can be more supportive of their employees and contribute to reducing that stigma.
However, even though paid menstrual leave could be a good thing, it would be more impactful for organisations to incorporate flexibility and awareness around the impacts of periods throughout workplace policies. Making sure that bathrooms have proper sanitary disposal units, allowing staff the flexibility where possible to make adjustments to their workspace or style to account for the physical discomfort experienced during menstruation, and making sure employees have access to regular breaks to manage their hygiene and use of period products would be a good starting place.
This is especially important in industries that are shift-work based, involve physical labour, or customer service, where there isn’t a lot of flexibility for staff in terms of their movements and breaks. If employers want to go even further, they could provide free sanitary products for employees.
Yes, one could argue that it isn’t the job of the employer to manage every aspect of staff health and well-being, down to providing pads and tampons on site – but these minor adjustments could make a big difference for some staff, which in turn has implications for retention and productivity.
At the very least, having this conversation in the Assembly and in workplaces is a sign that progress is being made towards destigmatising periods. The days of walking to the work bathroom with a pad or tampon hidden up your sleeve so your colleagues couldn’t see are fading into the rearview mirror, and for that, I’m glad.