Ask a woman about her period, and you might hear that it’s no big deal. On the other hand, she also might say that she has terrible pain and discomfort every single month. Over time, that pain can add up to lost work performance. The solution? Companies adopting paid period leave.
The latest company to install this policy comes from an unlikely country: India. Zomato, a food delivery service in India with 5000 employees, now offers its female employees 10 days of paid period leave each year.
“At Zomato, we want to foster a culture of trust, truth and acceptance. Starting today, all women (including transgender people) at Zomato can avail up to 10 days of period leaves in a year,” founder and CEO Deepinder Goya wrote on the company’s blog. “There shouldn’t be any shame or stigma attached to applying for a period leave. You should feel free to tell people on internal groups, or emails that you are on your period leave for the day.”
There are roughly a half dozen countries that have implemented period leave, according to Addressing Menstruation in the Workplace: The Menstrual Leave Debate. Zambia, for instance, offers women one day per month, Indonesia gives them two. Taiwan instituted it in 2014. And Japan has had period leave on its books since 1947 — practically ancient law.
Periods Can Be Disruptive
Most women might experience some cramping, bloating, and general discomfort during their periods. For a minority, though, that time of the month is rough duty.
Dysmenorrhea, or pain associated with menstruation, is the most commonly reported menstrual disorder. More than half of women who menstruate have some pain for one or two days each month, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Dysmenorrhea is sometimes caused by an underlying medical problem, such as endometriosis or fibroids, which leads to often excruciating pain and copious bleeding.
“Most women do not suffer from important changes in emotional and physical health across the cycle, but there is a minority that do and deserve diagnosis, treatment and potentially accommodations at work,” Tory Eisenlohr-Moul, a clinical psychologist, assistant professor of psychiatry and associate director of translational research in the Women’s Mental Health Research Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told CNN. “So it’s a matter of acknowledging individual differences.”
Indeed, a 2017 study, conducted in the Netherlands, surveyed 32,748 women between the ages of 15-45 about periods in the workplace. About 14% of them reported missing work due to period issues.
No True Sick Leave Policy in US
Unlike almost all countries, the US has no federally mandated sick leave policy, let alone a period leave version. The much-touted Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) only covers unpaid leave. According to Pew Research, about 33.6 million workers, (24% of all civilian workers, which includes private and local and state government workers), have no access to paid sick leave at all. Not for the flu, food poisoning, or COVID-19, and certainly not for periods.
Plus, the less money one makes in the US, the less likely it is that you’ll have paid sick leave; only 31% of people in the lowest paying jobs have any paid leave at all.
Could Period Leave Cause Discrimination?
During this pandemic, women workers are being laid off from work at higher rates than men. According to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), the number of women who lost employment last April is greater than the 11.1 million jobs women gained between the end of the Great Recession in July 2010 and the beginning of the coronavirus crisis in February 2020. So, perhaps this isn’t the ideal time to bring up the subject of paid period leave.
Inga Winkler, a lecturer in human rights and director of the Working Group on Menstrual Health and Gender Justice at Columbia University in New York, told CNN that sexism still carries weight in the workplace.
“The reason the concept of ‘menstrual leave’ is controversial is the broader context of the society we live in — a society characterized by huge gender inequalities, where women earn less, are perceived as less capable and, in particular when menstruating, are seen as ‘hysterical,’ not trustworthy and unfit for decision-making,” Winkler said. “So while these policies may be well-intentioned, they risk playing right into stereotypes of labeling women as needing extra protection and extra time off, which in turn might reinforce biases in hiring, promotion and compensation. What we really need to work on is challenging these prejudices, but we shouldn’t expect the women who are confident enough to take menstrual leave to challenge these perceptions on their own.”