Menstrual leave enables a person to take time off from work when period symptoms make it difficult to perform work tasks. For some people, pelvic pain can be debilitating and affect work productivity.

Older research from 2013 reports that severe pain prevents work activity performance in 5–20% of people who menstruate. Having time off work for a day or two during one’s menstrual period may help them recover physically and mentally during a time when they have reduced work performance.

Although menstrual leave can allow time to recover, it also carries risks, such as the potential to perpetuate sexist attitudes and contribute to menstrual stigma.

Keep reading to learn more about menstrual leave, including the risks and benefits, the countries with such policies, and how to advocate for it in the workplace.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

Was this helpful?
A woman lying on a couch with a laptop.Share on Pinterest
Fiordaliso/Getty Images

A 2016 study reports that dysmenorrhea, or severe period pain, is very common. According to this study, it is the leading cause of absences from work in females of reproductive age.

Dysmenorrhea causes pain and pelvic cramping that manifests just before and during menstruation. The pain can radiate toward the lower back and upper legs and cause significant pain, especially for people with conditions like endometriosis, adenomyosis, and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

Symptoms associated with period pain include:

When severe symptoms make it difficult for a person to do their work, menstrual leave prevents feeling pressured to work.

It offers the time necessary to cope with symptoms, seek treatment, and recover before tackling work duties. Feeling rested can also make a person more productive when they return to work.

Alternatively, companies can support their employees with periods by reducing their hours and allowing them to work from home. This allows them to work in a more comfortable home environment where pain relief methods like medication and heat packs are easily accessible.

According to The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Menstruation Studies, there is a controversy over menstrual leave.

The authors contend that thoughtful implementation of menstrual leave policies is necessary to avoid counterproductive unintended effects. Potential risks include:

Perpetuating sexist attitudes

Both benevolent and hostile sexism can lead to viewing a menstruating person as more irrational and less likable. Benevolent sexism states that menstruation is a sign of female fragility, while hostile sexism involves a belief that females are inferior.

Additionally, co-workers may look less favorably on menstruating people who use a menstrual leave policy than those who do not.

Contributing to menstrual stigma

Discussions about menstruation in the workplace violate cultural norms that foster nondisclosure. Consequently, some people believe that instead of greater openness serving to dismantle stigma, it may contribute to it.

Since menstruation is usually a private topic, some people may object to nonprivate references to it in the workplace.

If someone chooses to use menstrual leave, at the very least, they will have to inform their supervisor that they are menstruating. They may be uncomfortable with this disclosure, and it could lead to implicit, if not explicit, discrimination.

Worsening discrimination in the workplace

Due to society’s expectations of females regarding child care and home-related duties, people often attribute absence from work to this perceived gender role. Menstrual leave may perpetuate the view that females are less desirable choices for holding advanced positions.

Additionally, it may worsen the gendered wage gap.

Potential benefits of menstrual leave include:

Normalizing menstruation discussions

Because discussions of menstruation are considered taboo, people can feel pressure to avoid disclosing their symptoms to co-workers.

For this reason, menstrual leave may provide the opportunity to speak up about symptoms, which may help normalize or neutralize the topic. Proponents of menstrual leave contend that this would promote destigmatization.

Reserving medical leave

Menstrual leave policies differ among countries and companies.

For example, some policies offer workplace flexibility during menstruation, while others offer days off. If a policy provides the latter, individuals can take time to recover while reserving their medical leave for nonmenstrual health conditions.

Menstrual leave policies differ among the places that have it.

For instance, a company may offer 1 day per month of paid menstrual leave or the ability to work from home 1 or more days per month. Some workplaces also provide “well-being rooms” where menstruators can take a break to focus on their health during working hours.

Differing national menstrual leave policies exist in the following countries:

  • Japan
  • China
  • Taiwan
  • Indonesia
  • South Korea
  • Mexico
  • Zambia

Individuals with painful or disruptive menstrual symptoms may wish to speak with their boss about menstrual leave. The discussion can involve a brief but clear description of monthly symptoms and include a specific request for an accommodation, such as:

  • paid or unpaid days off
  • hybrid work conditions, which involve being able to work from home part-time
  • flexible work schedule

According to experts, advocates in a position to write menstrual leave policies should exercise care in the wording. This means the policies should not strengthen stereotypes that menstruating people are hormonal, impulsive, or unreliable decision-makers.

Menstrual leave can prevent a person from feeling pressure to work when experiencing severe pain and other symptoms associated with a monthly period. This can permit time to rest and recover.

Risks may include perpetuating sexist attitudes, contributing to menstrual stigma, and worsening gender discrimination in the workplace.

Benefits may involve normalizing menstruation discussions and reserving medical leave for nonmenstrual health conditions.

To advocate for such policies, people can approach their boss with a concise description of their menstrual symptoms and request specific accommodations.