Like many aspects of women’s health, the concept of menstruation leave has mixed reviews. On one side of the debate, offering paid (or in some countries, unpaid) leave sends the message that menstruators can’t perform or meet their job responsibilities during their cycle. This can be especially harmful in parts of the world where periods are considered ‘dirty’ and taboo, even though they are everything-but. On the opposite side sits those who acknowledge and believe menstruation is a natural part of life, and all women experience PMS symptoms on a sliding scale of severity. Allowing them the choice to work remotely, or take a day as they need it, allows them the rest and recovery to be even more successful at their gigs.
Looking ahead, experts predict more companies in the United States will offer this option as part of a comprehensive benefits package in an effort to attract new generations of ‘woke’ professionals. As in, they expect the topic of menstruation (and all women’s health issues) to be less hush-hush and more accepted. As reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist Dr. Banafsheh Kashani, MD, FACOG puts it: periods are here to stay—and women can (and should) talk more openly about their experiences. If you’re one of the many women who would benefit from a menstruation leave policy, consider this advice from Dr. Kashani on how to make it a possibility in your profession.
Start tracking your menstrual cycle
If you don’t already do this, Dr. Kashani suggests starting. This is important because it provides a clear picture of when your menstruation-related symptoms begin, and when they are at their worst. For three months, log everything via a period-tracking app (there are plenty of free ones!), including your heaviest flow days, and when cramps are at their peak. “If your cycles are regular, you will be able to predict your menstrual cycle days, which will allow you to inform your employer of time to request off,” she continues. “This heads up about possible days off can help for scheduling and coverage.”
Be open about your conditions
For those who suffer from endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome, periods are often extremely uncomfortable and unpredictable. Sometimes, it may even require you to explore ways to relieve the pressure, from medicine to heat relief, and beyond. Though it may be a difficult conversation to have with your manager or the human resources department, the more detail you can provide—via doctor’s notes or other data from your app—the better case you will make for yourself.
As with anything in the office, make sure to explain how your symptoms impact your ability to do your job effectively, and illustrate how a menstruation leave option would benefit the company’s bottom line.
“Significant pain that is not controllable with standard over-the-counter medication is disruptive and leads to poor performance and attention. Heavy menstrual bleeding is uncomfortable and can be potentially embarrassing for women who soak through their clothing,” Dr. Kashani explains. “Menstrual leave allows women to take one to two days off when these symptoms are at their worst. When they return to work, they are able to better focus on their tasks at hand.”
Make a menstrual leave policy or template
Before you propose the discussion, make sure you have exactly what you would like in mind. And Dr. Kashani suggests coming with a few options so your employer can fully understand the scope of your ask. This could be a more flexible work environment that allows for frequent bathroom breaks during this period, the approval to work from the comfort of your home during your cycle, or even time off, whether it’s paid or unpaid. With a template in mind, it makes it easier for your company to digest how it would work, and thus, implement a policy. If you have the means, hiring a lawyer to help you is a smart strategy, as well as researching countries that already offer this benefit, which include Italy, Japan, and Australia.
Remain productive during menstrual leave
If your company adopts this policy, Dr. Kashani encourages women to find ways to be productive while at home. This, of course, is only if you choose to not take a full day off, and if your type of profession allows you to stay tuned-in out of office. “You can talk to your employer about strategies to complete work and still be productive while at home,” she continues. “This allows the luxury of working while in bed with a heating pad, and without the inconvenience of regular bathroom visits while at work to change feminine products.”
And if your cramps are too bad, or your period too heavy, to think about anything but lay as still as possible? That’s okay, too. The point of a menstruation leave is to offer options, even if you don’t take them every month. And even if you don’t have a formal diagnosis to warrant your symptoms. The hope is that by simply asking, you’re igniting a much-delayed conversation for a monthly function that’s been happening, for, well, ever. right