Can You Take Time Off Work For Period Pain? | WUKA
Can you take time off work for period pain? Periods can cause severe period pains or heavy bleeding so this is an ongoing debate. Learn more about this below.
Periods in the Workplace
Have you ever needed to take time off work due to period pain? If so, then you’re not on your own - in fact, following Spain’s decision to bring menstrual leave to parliament, there are now calls for changes to be made in the UK too.
A study carried out in 2019 titled Productivity loss due to menstruation, surveyed 32,748 Dutch women between the ages of 15 and 45. This study found that almost 14% had taken time off work or school during their period, with 3.5% of those women saying that this happened every - or nearly every- menstrual cycle. So do we need more support for people in the workplace suffering from painful periods?
Menstrual Leave in the UK
A UK study carried out in 2021 by charity, Bloody Good Period, has some startling findings to consider. A staggering 89% of women surveyed said that they felt anxious or stressed at work due to their period, with 63% agreeing that the conversation around periods in the workplace needs to be normalised.
The same study reports that 25% of the women also felt that taking time off for their period had negatively impacted their career progression, with 27% saying that they never felt supported at work when it comes to menstrual health. Shockingly, 11% of these women reported that they only sometimes have access to toilets and breaks - with 4% saying that they never have access to toilet or breaks at work.
But what does 'menstrual leave’ currently look like in the UK? At the moment, women who take time off work for period pain or period related issues will need to take the time off as sick leave. Under UK law, the first 3 days of sick leave is unpaid, which means that for the majority of people taking just two or three days leave, this leaves a dent in their pay check.
With this in mind (and considering that 33% of the women Bloody Good Period spoke to reported that they felt discussing periods with their employer was unprofessional) its safe to conclude that many people who have periods simply do not take the time off when they need to.
Yet, according to this post from the charity’s Instagram, 73% of people who menstruate stated that they had struggled to do their work effectively due to their period, with 79% reporting that pain was the reason why they were having difficulties.
And let’s not forget those who suffer from conditions such as Endometriosis. According to Endometriosis UK, the condition costs the UK economy £8.2bn per year in loss of work and healthcare treatment. 55% of sufferers have taken time off work due to Endometriosis, with 31% resorting to reducing their working hours and 27% believing they had been passed over for promotion.
So should the UK introduce menstrual leave, or will this only cause more problems in the workplace?
Time off work for period pain: the debate
Whether people with periods should have time off work for period pains or heavy bleeding has been an ongoing debate.
Some advocate for extra leave for period pain on a monthly basis, while others argue that this would only widen the gender pay gap, provide fewer job opportunities for women, and fuel sexism.
Should Spain pass the propose changes and bring in the menstrual leave law, workers in that country will be given three days paid leave for intense period pain, and a further two additional days could also be granted in some cases. And while the aim is to ensure that those with periods do not need to suffer at work, there are certainly mixed views about it.
Benefits of menstrual leave
Taking time off work allows people who menstruate to take care of themselves during the most uncomfortable times of their period, without needing to use any of their annual leave.
Taking time off when experiencing period pain can be beneficial to the company, as for some period pain makes it harder to continue with work, just as any man or woman would if they were experiencing pain.
If menstrual leave was to be granted, it would then ease the conversations around periods, normalise them, and remove some stigmas.
Having these discussions around periods in the workplace helps to put the topic on the political agenda, forcing people to consider the options. It also has an impact on addressing other concerns such as period poverty and the period pants tax.
Potential drawbacks to menstrual leave
A worry for some people is that they may be less likely to be hired if an employer thinks they may take too much time off work for their periods. Some women already feel disadvantaged when applying for a job, as prospective employers may be considering whether they might take time off for pregnancy-related issues, and then maternity leave.
If menstrual leave was to come into effect there may be a need to address those who have pain and health concerns due to pregnancy, peri-menopause, menopause, and irregular periods.
Some people with periods who experience irregular periods may get 2 bleeds per month, or nothing for a few months, which may add further worry that their employer will think they are inconsistent when asking for time off.
It could highlight differences and cause embarrassment for women who, for whatever reason, do not have periods. Colleagues may ask questions such as, ‘why don’t you take time off for your period?’
Menstrual leave around the world
Since 1947, Japan’s labour standard law has allowed women menstrual leave. It is believed that the law originated from the thought that women needed to rest during their periods, so as not to cause a problem with their fertility.
In Indonesia, women are entitled to 2 days off for menstrual leave and in Taiwan, women are offered 3 days of menstrual leave.
In South Korea, since 2001, women may take 1 day off a month - however, this day is unpaid. If women do not use their 1 day of period leave then they will be given additional pay.
Yet despite this, a survey carried out in 2022 reported that, although women in Asia are being offered menstrual leave (70% of those who were asked stated that their company had menstrual leave policies in place) only a few are taking it up. Of the workers who were able to claim the time off for period pain, only 1.9% took it every month. The reasons why this is happening include:
- Reluctance to apply to a male boss for menstrual leave.
- Feeling guilty about taking time off and the pressure it places on work colleagues and the difficulty in covering the position.
- Worry of what colleagues and employers may say.
Did you know... a football app start-up in Gothenburg is set to become the first business in Sweden to be certified as menstruation-friendly. But how much do employees really want to talk about their periods? There is an interesting article over at BBC. Worth a read.
How to tell your boss you need time off work for period pain
It can be difficult to tell your boss, whatever their gender, that you need time off for your period pain or heavy bleeding. The thought of it can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. However, know that your period is nothing to be ashamed of!
The good news is that you don’t need to go into detail about why you need the time off. As long as they’re aware that you’re on sick leave, and you follow your company’s policies on leave, you should be fine.
Managing periods at work
Perhaps you don’t want to, or are unable to, take time off work, but the thought of sitting at your desk or on your feet all day is making you feel worse, then these tips will help you get through your day...
- Work from home, this way you can keep on top of your workload, doesn’t use any of your annual leave, and still get paid.
- Ask a colleague to swap work duties.
- Take a hot water bottle to work, our WUKA wearable hot water bottles fit securely around your waist.
- Keep some painkillers in your draw or locker.
- Wear comfy clothes.
- Make sure you have enough period products with you. With WUKA Heavy Flow Period Pants, you can be sure you’ll stay leak-free for up to 8 hours. Or for your medium flow days, try our Medium Flow Period Pants, complete tampon and pad replacement. They hold around 15ml of period flow which is the equivalent of around 2-3 tampons' worth.
- Carry healthy snacks and water with you to refuel - dark chocolate is a good option.
- Take regular breaks to walk around.
- Find a quiet room and practise these yoga stretches.
- Exercising before or after work may help to relieve your aches.
The bottom line on menstrual leave
There is a clear debate for and against people with periods being entitled to menstrual leave in the workplace.
In some Asian countries, menstrual leave is already in place. However, some people who menstruate may feel awkward about taking it due to how others may view them or being a burden on work colleagues.
It can be difficult asking for time off when you know it’s due to period pain, but try your best to not give in to period shame. If you need to go home and take care of yourself, then do. Your health is a priority.
Being practically prepared can help you through your day at work whilst on your period. Be sure to wear your WUKA Period Pants and pack some chocolate.