New three-day 'menstrual leave' policy introduced to employees in European first

·Contributor, Yahoo Life UK
·6 min read
Spain is set to become the first country in Europe to offer 'menstrual leave' for employees suffering period pain while at work. (Getty Images)
Spain is set to become the first country in Europe to offer 'menstrual leave' for employees suffering period pain while at work. (Getty Images)

Spain is set to become the first country in Europe to offer 'menstrual leave', capped at three days per month, for employees suffering period pain while at work.

The Spanish government is due to approve the measure next week, as revealed by the Cadena Ser radio station, and will make Spain the first European country to entitle women to time off work during their periods.

While the measure will be a European first, Spain isn't the only country offering ‘menstrual leave’ to workers. Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, parts of China and Zambia all have similar policies.

The Spanish policy, which was originally proposed as part of a package of measures to guarantee menstrual health and recovery of reproductive health in March, is being implemented for workers who suffer debilitating pain during the periods, rather than those who only have slight discomfort.

The Spanish Gynaecology and Obstetrics Society says about one third of those who menstruate experience dysmenorrhea, extreme cramping that occurs before or during a period.

Dysmenorrhea symptoms range from headaches and diarrhoea to a fever and stomach pain.

Read more: Flushable sanitary pads are here to help periods become more sustainable

“It is important to clarify what a painful period is, we are not talking about a slight discomfort, but about serious symptoms such as diarrhoea, severe headaches, fever,” Spain’s secretary of state for equality and against gender violence Angela Rodriguez told El Periodico, as reported by The Telegraph.

“Symptoms that when there is a disease that entails them, a temporary disability is granted, therefore the same should happen with menstruation and that there is the possibility that if a woman has a very painful period, she can stay home.”

It is estimated that one third of those who menstruate experience dysmenorrhea, extreme cramping that occurs before or during a period. (Getty Images)
It is estimated that one third of those who menstruate experience dysmenorrhea, extreme cramping that occurs before or during a period. (Getty Images)

Under the reform package, which is set to be passed at Spain's next cabinet meeting on Tuesday, schools will also be required to provide sanitary pads for girls who need them.

Sanitary pads and tampons will have VAT removed from their sale price in supermarkets – as well as being provided free of charge to women in marginalised social circumstances.

Watch: How to relieve period pain

The subject of 'menstrual leave' has been garnering much debate recently, with many calling for the UK to follow suit in offering workplace menstruation policies.

Research by personalised period care company, Yoppie, recently revealed how a lack of workplace period policies could be costing businesses over £6bn a year, as the stigma surrounding days off due to PMS causes women to lose 8.4 days due to lower productivity in the workplace.

A nationwide obstetrics and gynaecology study into productivity loss due to menstrual-related symptoms found that on average, women lose 9.3 days a year due to menstruation-related symptoms.

Absenteeism due to PMS, the absence from work or failure to report or remain at work as scheduled, accounted for the loss of 0.9 days per year.

Read more: Pantone releases new colour to tackle the stigma surrounding menstruation

Yoppie is now calling on UK businesses to create their own workplace period leave policies, after their research found that 96% of UK women say their employers do not offer any sort of menstrual leave within the workplace, even for the most severe of PMS symptoms.

However, many women would like to see more done to address the issue.

When asked if they would support or oppose such a policy becoming a legal workplace requirement, 84% stated they were in favour, with just 6% strongly against the idea.

Further research by YouGov, which was conducted for BBC Radio 5 reveals that a majority (57%) of women in employment who suffer from period pain say it has affected their ability to work.

Yet only around a quarter (27%) of women whose performance has been affected by period pain have ever admitted to their employer that this was the case.

Three in ten (31%) told their employer that troubles caused by period pain were down to some other reason, while 33% said neither of these (a large proportion of this group may well not let on about feeling unwell to their employer in the first place).

“The UK continues to fall short of basic employment rights by constantly ignoring the issue of menstrual leave," explains Daniella Peri, founder of Yoppie. "While those nations that already offer some form of leave might not be getting it absolutely right, they’re miles ahead of us.

"Some will argue that our general sick leave policies are sufficient to cover menstrual leave, but if a woman is having to take a day or two of sick leave every month compared to the average of four or five sick days a year, employers may start to look unfavourably on them."

Read more: Superdrug launches range of sanitary products for 'people who menstruate'

Dysmenorrhea symptoms range from headaches and diarrhoea to a fever and stomach pain. (Getty Images)
Dysmenorrhea symptoms range from headaches and diarrhoea to a fever and stomach pain. (Getty Images)

Peri believes it is this stigma that causes many to refrain from taking time off work when PMS hits in fear that they won’t be treated equally against their male counterparts.

"Menstrual symptoms are not something that can be ignored – for some women, the pain can be debilitating and the ability to focus on work all but vanishes.

"Unless, as a nation, we start to differentiate between unforeseen bouts of sickness and the cyclical nature of period pains, stigmas that have been allowed to grow will only continue to flourish. Instead, we must work to ensure that menstruation is put on the political agenda and discussed at the highest level.

Some UK companies have taken the initiative to offer menstrual leave for their employees. Back in 2016 Bristol-based company, Coexist, announced they were planning to create an official ‘period policy’ designed to allow women to take time off without being stigmatised.

Speaking to the Guardian about the policy, Bex Baxter, the director of Coexist, said she hoped the move would help make the workplace more efficient and creative.

“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,” she said.

“Despite this, they feel they cannot go home because they do not class themselves as unwell. And this is unfair. At Coexist we are very understanding. If someone is in pain – no matter what kind – they are encouraged to go home. But, for us, we wanted a policy in place which recognises and allows women to take time for their body’s natural cycle without putting this under the label of illness.”

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