20 October 2022

Paid menstrual leave is not as far-fetched as you might think

| Zoya Patel
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Progress is being made to destigmatise menstruation and menopause. Photo: File.

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.

READ MORE Backbencher calls for paid period leave for public servants

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.

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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.

READ MORE ‘Urinate behind a tree’: construction industry a hostile place for menstruating women

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.

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Feeling inadequate are we?

William Newby8:06 am 21 Oct 22

Menstruation and menopause ARE accepted reasons to access personal leave ALREADY.

I recognise some suffer this worse than others, however I fail to see why additional leave days are being suggested for this one specific medical condition.

The strong dismissive comments by both male and female readers on here would suggest the Labor party have managed to produce yet another divisive idea to set us all apart.

Well done.

Does the ACTPS have a gender pay gap?

It’s a click-bait idea. No one is suggesting additional leave for women, simply that employees should be able to use personal leave for this. In my eyes it shouldn’t matter what you use your leave for – its your leave. The idea of having specific “sick” leave that is different from personal leave is outdated. Just merge the two, and give all employees (including govt contractors) access to 6 weeks total leave and let them take it whenever they want.

It’s a totally ridiculous brain fart of an idea.
If the concept had any real merit, it wouldn’t be suggested solely for ACT Government employees. It would be universal. Why just Government employee? Simply, that there is no cost to anyone; the Government will pay for it! Truth of course is everyone’s Rates would pay for the scheme!

A really ridiculous suggestion. That’s what sick leave is for, and chances are that won’t all be used up before you retire and leave that job. I still had months left over when I retired, even being someone who suffered badly with endometriosis. When I finally had surgery my condition was classified as severe. The surgeon commented he was surprised to find how severe it was.
I took the normal sick leave for a day or two every month. There’s plenty of that for most women. I certainly didn’t need seven days, just the one or two days when I was lying in pain in the foetal position and with the possibly of throwing up. Throwing up didn’t happen every month, but the pain did. After the worst of the pain was over, the other lesser pain could be lived with (and pain killers which weren’t strong enough for the severe pain, worked at this level) and it was possible to function normally. Maybe even to again ride my bike to work.
I wasn’t one though to waste my sick leave for after having a night out with the ‘girls or boys’, or for going fishing and the like, so always had plenty.

There are definitely a few strange implications around this proposal.

Firstly from a business lens, giving specific employees additional benefits over others makes them less attractive to potential employers as they will cost more over time. If we are trying to create an equal workplace, why would we look at further segregation of benefits?

Secondly, the whole point in a single block of sick leave for employees is that it is already meant to cover the health needs of all employees. Most people won’t use their entire leave amounts.

If we start specifically separating out components of sick leave, where do we draw the line? Should we have a specific day off for every regular illness?

Isn’t it better just to have an overall amount of leave available to all employees to cover the full gamut of potential reasons to need sick days? Kite flying ideas like this are counter productive.

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