Women’s health has been in the public eye in recent years. In 2020 Scotland became the first country in the UK to provide free period products to local authorities and in 2021 the UK abolished the ‘tampon tax’. More awareness has also been raised in the media about menopause and its symptoms. We have seen an increase in “menopause” being cited in a growing number of Employment Tribunal claims – Emma O'Connor reported on this with Dee Murray of Menopause Experts in our September 2021, watch the webinar here.
The latest women’s health story to hit the headlines is that leaked information last month revealed the Spanish government plans to introduce a bill which will guarantee women who suffer from severe period pains three days sick leave per month, extended to five days in serious cases. Employees would need a doctor’s note. The Spanish government say that their plans have not been formalised and are part of wider set of measures around women’s health.
If this bill is passed then Spain will be the first country in the EU to enforce such legislation – but what do we think?
Currently there are six countries worldwide that have legislative menstrual sick leave: Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Indonesia and Zambia. The type of ‘menstrual leave’ differs widely between them all. Japan set the trend way back in 1947. The Japanese legislation allows female employees to take sick leave for severe period pains; however, there is no obligation on employers to pay for this type of leave. In 2021 it was reported that just 0.9% of Japanese women use this type of leave, perhaps as the leave is unpaid is not attractive. Zambia and South Korea grant women one day’s leave per month (Zambia labels such leave as ‘Mother’s Day’). China, although only granted in just some provinces, appears to be the most similar to the Spanish bill with two days paid leave a month. Taiwan offers just three extra days a year – at a 50% wage.
Axios.com reported that digital distribution platform GOG has already introduced menstrual leave. GOG allows employees to take time as needed “whenever period pains occur”. Time could be taken as hours or days and is paid. In 2016, it was reported that community interest group Coexist in Bristol, had also introduced period leave in an effort to give women more flexibility and “create a happier and healthier working environment”.
Might UK employers follow suit?
According to Endometriosis UK, around 1.5 million women and those assigned female at birth are suffering from Endometriosis (which is just one of many mensural health conditions). Endometriosis can lead to chronic pain, fatigue, depression, an inability to conceive and difficulty in fulfilling work and social commitments. There is still stigma around the discussion of menstrual health which inevitably will make it harder for people who aren’t suffering to understand. Hopefully the Spanish bill and other employer’s experiences can work to get the conversation started.
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