Will menstrual leave come to the UK?

Reports have identified a plan in Spain to introduce between three to five (in serious cases) days’ medical leave for females — and those assigned female at birth — when they suffer from painful periods. This is proposed alongside wider reproductive health reforms, and it is understood that it will be put before the Spanish Cabinet in late May 2022.

Should Spain go ahead with this, they will be among only a handful of countries worldwide to legislate for this. Is there anything similar here in the UK, and are we likely to follow suit?

Why menstrual leave?

Since only females and those assigned female at birth are able to menstruate, placing an employee at a disadvantage due to a women’s health issue could amount to sex discrimination or harassment. This has previously been seen in Rooney v Leicestershire City Council (2021) whereby a female employee was treated negatively because they were going through menopause. The same considerations would apply to those who suffer with severe period pain and who need time off work to manage this.

Is leave necessary?

In some cases, leave will be necessary, as menstrual pain can be temporarily debilitating for some. However, Emma Cox, CEO of charity Endometriosis UK, is wary of this approach, highlighting that a generic “menstrual leave” policy can downplay severe and chronic conditions such as endometriosis, which whilst connected to menstruation, is a unique and specific condition that can have serious effects for those struggling with it.

Is this likely to be introduced?

Specific leave for menstrual pain is unlikely to be seen anytime soon. However, female health issues have been under the spotlight for some time now, with a “Women’s Health Strategy” (published in December 2021) and a cross-government Menopause Taskforce (established in late 2021) focusing on support for menopausal females. These actions could eventually lead to some form of leave entitlement specifically for female health problems, or at the very least more awareness within the working population of the issues that females face in the workplace and the development of more understanding policies and practices.

What can employers do now?

Introducing a contractual entitlement to menstrual leave could help affected employees. However, it may be more beneficial for organisations to instead implement measures to support them to continue working. For example, offering hybrid working arrangements and flexi-hours may allow employees to remain comfortable without losing out on pay or work projects. Similarly, providing free period products in the workplace and creating a culture of open communication will enable employees to reach out to their employer if they are struggling and agree tailored adjustments which will directly alleviate the pain and discomfort they experience. Many employees will not want to take time off work, so creating an environment where health discussions are welcomed, and adjustments expected, can be a win-win solution for all.