Menstrual Leave – Can you take time off work?
Currently in UK employment law there is no menstrual leave policy - some women take sick days off when necessary but Spain has announced it is looking at reforms allowing women to take up to three days of menstrual leave per month.
Many women in the UK are forced to use sick days to cover uncomfortable menstrual periods and often say they feel embarrassed and uncomfortable when they have to discuss the matter with line managers and bosses.
This is following on from recent menopause policies and the emphasis of this in the workplace scenario with regards to potential employment tribunals – if you feel you have been discriminated against because of the menopause you might have a case to answer against your employer. The new proposed menstrual leave takes it a step further and potentially has a wider reach for all ages.
Is menstrual leave an employment right?
“Currently UK employment law states workers should use sick leave if they need time off work and sometimes if a woman has a condition such as endometriosis they may require to take more than expected in sick days,” said Pearson Solicitors Head of Employment Law, Susan Mayall.
“Whilst the Spanish proposal is a positive step for supporting women's health always it depends on individual circumstances, the workplace and your relationships with managers and bosses,” she added.
At this time if a woman was dismissed for taking too many sick days linked to painful periods, one legal avenue would be for her to claim that her symptoms were so severe as to amount to a ‘disability’ which is defined as a “physical or mental impairment which has a substantial, long term adverse effect on her day to day activities”. The symptoms of which may be different from woman to woman and the severity and effects of her symptoms on her day to day activities would need to be considered by an Employment Tribunal.
There are no current Employment Law cases on menstruation. Having said this, employment protection related to menopause symptoms was unheard of until recently and so hopefully it may only be a matter of time before ‘reasonable adjustments’ in the workplace are considered the norm for women who suffer from period pains and menstruation issues.
Who gets menstrual leave?
The proposed Spanish bill says women with an appropriate doctor's note could be entitled to three days of paid leave per month for painful periods, potentially extending up to five days and that the state social security system will pay for such leave and not employers.
According to the Office of National Statistics, "the average number of sick days per year is 4.4". Women in the workplace could be reluctant to take time off for ‘menstrual leave’ as days off would mount up, this is without taking into account other sick days needed for flu and other one off illnesses.
“I would hope we would not get to a stage where an employer discriminates against taking on women because of this,” said Susan.
“Employees should feel comfortable in their place of work and supported, there should be no stigma attached to issues surrounding menstruation and open and honest communication is my first piece of advice to both sides.
Just as happens currently with the menopause businesses are free to implement their own policies surrounding menstruation.” she added.
Countries with menstrual leave
Other countries currently have menstrual leave including Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and Zambia, in the majority paid leave is not granted but staff get extra time off outside of statutory sick leave allowances.
- In Indonesia, women are allowed two days of menstrual leave a month, not in addition to sick leave.
- Japanese law says those experiencing a difficult menstruation period should be given time off, but it does not have to be paid leave.
- Employees in South Korea get menstrual leave, but extra pay is given to those who do not take it.
- In Taiwan three extra days a year are granted for menstruation on top of the statutory 30.
- Whilst Zambia has a Mother's Day policy providing a legal entitlement to a day off a month for menstrual leave.
“With all these countries having a policy for staff and Spain currently considering it now might be the time to chat with your HR team and your employer about following suit. If you have any issues or need advice on any employment issues I am only too happy to have an initial chat over the phone,” said Susan.
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Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.