News & Opinion | May 26, 2022 10:00 am

Apparently We Can’t Have Menstrual Leave Because It’s Unfair to Men

Giving people time off during their periods seems like a no-brainer. Turns out that’s easier said than done.

A photo illustration of tampons. We look into the issue of companies potentially offering universal menstrual leave.
Some companies are trying out menstrual leave, but it may not become the norm anytime soon.
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From a young age, people with uteruses are essentially expected to push through the painful cramping, potential vomiting and general discomfort that comes with menstruation and simply continue on with their day. During my tenure at my all-girls high school, my classmates regularly complained about the lack of empathy for menstruation, constantly wondering why the hell we had to attend class, let alone focus and accomplish work, during our periods. The answer is likely a nice mix of misogyny and capitalism. 

However, that tide might be turning (well, in the workforce, that is). According to a recent report from The Washington Post, some companies have begun offering menstrual leave to their employees. These policies span from one day of menstrual leave per month to unlimited menstrual leave for those with uteruses, and are being implemented so employees don’t have to use up sick or vacation hours on period-related problems. 

The majority of the U.S. is, unsurprisingly, behind when it comes to allowing those with debilitating conditions to take some time off from work. Other places around the world, like Japan and China, have had longstanding menstrual leave policies, as the Post notes, and Spain is about to become the first Western country to offer women time off for severe period pain. 

There are obvious benefits to menstrual leave, the biggest being the well-being of employees, particularly those who experience excessive bleeding and extreme pain during their time of the month. “…work flexibility is certainly going to help alleviate that distress and help them achieve well-being,” Jessica L. Barnack-Tavlaris, a professor of psychology at the College of New Jersey, told the Post. Policies like these also help remove any shame or fear around telling your boss you need to take the day off due to cramps. Unfortunately, while menstrual leave seems like a no-brainer policy all companies should adopt, there are many legal and privacy concerns surrounding these types of policies that could make companies hesitant. 

For starters, men could potentially claim they’re being discriminated against because the policy applies only to those who menstruate (we know, yawn). In order to protect employers from a possible discrimination suit, federal or state legislation would likely be required.

However, there are some reasonable concerns over menstrual leave policies. Some employees might not want their employers to know when they’re menstruating (not to mention that potentially having to prove you’re menstruating opens an awkward can of worms). Additionally, workers might be concerned that if they do utilize the policy, they could face retaliation for taking more time off than other non-menstruating employees, i.e., getting passed over for a promotion. 

While I do not know much about running a company, I do feel there is a simple solution to this problem that would make all employees happy: Give everyone more sick days.