Should you use your sick leave if menstruation isn’t a sickness?

By Samantha Lauriello
Updated October 04, 2018

We’ve all requested time off from work when we've had family in town. But there’s one relative we don’t usually think worthy of our PTO: Aunt Flo. She’s certainly a high-maintenance house guest—and one organization in Australia is recognizing that by giving its employees paid period leave. Not all too surprisingly, the policy has sparked major controversy.

The Victorian Women’s Trust (VWT) in Melbourne, Australia has offered 12 paid days off "for employees experiencing symptoms of menstruation and menopause." painful periods. What's been dubbed their "menstrual leave" policy has been in place for over a year now. 

The women’s advocacy group began experimenting with having a menstrual time off benefit after an employee had to leave work because she was doubled over in pain from her period. (Who can't relate to feeling like your uterus is being tied in a knot in the middle of the workday?) “We all know that menstruation is not a sickness, so it made no sense for her to take sick leave,” a 2017 VWT blog post states.

RELATED: 12 Things Every Woman Should Know About Her Period

With this thinking in mind, menstrual leave became completely separate from sick leave. VWT’s menstrual leave policy also gives women the option of working from home or resting in a comfortable place in the office (sign us up). 

The organization backs up its choice to cater to employees' periods with data from one of its research projects, the Waratah Project, which has explored how women collectively think about menstruation and menopause.

After surveying about 3,400 women across the globe and holding over 20 discussion groups throughout the state of Victoria, VWT found that 58% of participants said a day off to rest would make their period a better experience every month.

RELATED: This Is How Many Women Actually Have Period Sex

VWT is even encouraging other organizations to implement a menstrual policy for their own employees and has a template online that they can use to do so.

So is period leave a feminist’s dream...or a detour on the road to true equal opportunity and gender parity? There are arguments for both sides, of course.

On one hand, organizations like VWT are tackling the stigma around menstruation. The group argues that our culture has taught us to hide our periods from the world and pretend they don’t exist. Their menstrual leave policy is changing that by promoting open conversation about every woman’s monthly reality.

Others say this policy is trivializing women’s fight for equality in the workplace and confirms the idea that biology holds women back, not cultural myths or longstanding gender stereotypes.

RELATED: 10 Conditions That Could Be Messing With Your Period

“Girls can be denied an education because of cultural taboos, relative poverty, and lack of basic facilities during a period — and here are we, elite and spoiled women, demanding the right to stay at home. Does no one see the irony?” a 2017 Washington Post article states, referencing a United Nations report that says 20% of Indian girls drop out of school after reaching puberty.

VWT isn’t the first organization to implement a menstrual leave policy. Some Asian countries, like Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, Taiwan, and China, have laws that require it, even if it’s sometimes frowned upon in practice.

No matter the outcome of this debate, the very fact that we’re having it is a huge step in the right direction. Period leave may or may not be the right policy for every office. But by having the conversation, we’re opening the door for a deeper discussion around a topic that has remained taboo for far too long.

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