Sorry boss, I can’t come to work today - Aunt Flo is in town. I’m busy riding the crimson wave. The painters are in the basement, I have to stay at home. All of these are common euphemisms for periods, and for some, could now be a possible reason to take a day off work.
A British company has made the unique move of becoming the first in the UK to introduce menstrual leave, looking to give women time off during their monthly cycle for period and related pain. The business, called Coexist, employs 31 people (including 24 women), and will work with staff to determine exactly how the policy should be implemented.
Periods are still a taboo subject especially in areas like the workforce, with a recent survey showing that up to a quarter of women in Australia have missed work, school or an event because they were concerned someone would discover that they had their period. Many women perform tampon-ninja moves in the workplace, secreting away sanitary items so that their colleague (probably named Dave or Bill) won’t suffer the immense shock of realising some women have periods every month. But the taboo can also have serious effects, with many women working through debilitating pain to avoid discussing the issue, as explained by the director of Coexist, Bex Baxter:
“I have managed many female members of staff over the years and I have seen women at work who are bent over double because of the pain caused by their periods. Despite this, they feel they cannot go home because they do not class themselves as unwell.”
Women will also remain silent because they don’t wish to be thought of as a problem, or unreliable, simply for having a natural body function. So they suffer in silence. And this is where the situation becomes sticky, so to speak. If women are experiencing side effects related to their period that makes them unable to work, some people will claim they should just take the necessary days off using their regular sick days. However, is this realistic for the women who experience severe or debilitating pain every single month? And is it fair for women to use up their sick days, specifically designated for when they are sick, on something that is not actually an illness?
For Coexist, the policy is not just about being thoughtful to its staff – it’s about business sense. Baxter claims the policy is not actually about employees taking more time off, it’s simply about being flexible so that employees can manage their work flow (pun intended) more effectively, which will benefit both employee and employer.
Whatever the practical outcome in this case, moves like this by employers will at the very least have the impact of creating more dialogue around periods and women’s health and how it relates to the workforce.
And that deserves a standing ovulation.