What is menstrual leave, and which countries in the world have it?

Menstrual leave allows individuals to take time off work during their menstrual cycle.

November 7, 2023
What is menstrual leave, and which countries in the world have it?

What is menstrual leave?

Many workplaces around the world are now adopting menstrual leave. Menstrual leave gives employees the option to take a leave from work if they cannot work while menstruating. This leave is typically provided in addition to standard sick leave.

Although menstruation is a normal bodily function, some people may experience dizziness, nausea, migraines, and severe cramps during menstruation. In some cases, these symptoms can make it difficult to work. 

There is no set number of days a person can take off for their menstruation. Such leave may be paid in some places and unpaid in others. Also in some places, employers may allow people flexible options such as working from home instead of having a day off.

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The benefits of menstrual leave

Introducing menstrual leave into the workplace can have innumerable benefits, though there needs to be more research on the topic. Menstruation can be a physically and emotionally demanding time for many people. Symptoms such as cramps, headaches, fatigue, and mood changes can significantly impact an individual’s ability to perform their job, and duties effectively. By taking time off work during this time, individuals can prioritize self-care and allow themselves to rest and recover, which can lead to improved productivity and overall well-being.

Moreover, taking time off during menstruation can help reduce stress levels. Many people experience anxiety and stress related to managing their menstrual symptoms while also fulfilling work responsibilities. This can be especially challenging for individuals who work in high-stress environments or have jobs that require them to be on their feet for long periods. By taking time off work, individuals can reduce their stress levels, which can lead to a more positive outlook on life and better mental health.

It is important to highlight that individuals who don’t feel comfortable discussing menstruation openly must be given adequate options to take the leave discreetly. 

The benefit of menstrual leave is not only to look after one’s health issues and adjust one’s working day to suit but also to eliminate the stigma around menstruation. Additionally, offering menstrual leave can boost well-being by promoting a more inclusive and supportive work environment for menstrual individuals.

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Countries that have menstrual leave

One of the first countries to introduce menstrual leave was Japan, where it was introduced in 1947. In Japan, women can take one to three days off monthly if they experience painful periods or other menstrual symptoms.

Other countries that have introduced menstrual leave include South Korea, Indonesia, and Taiwan. In South Korea, menstruators are entitled to one day of menstrual leave per month, while in Indonesia, menstruators can take two days per month. In Taiwan, menstruators are entitled to three days of annual menstrual leave. Zambia, Italy, and the Philippines also offer menstrual leave for one to two days each month.

It’s worth noting that menstrual leave is a controversial topic, as some argue that it reinforces gender stereotypes and could lead to discrimination against menstruators in the workplace. Others argue that it is an essential step towards recognizing and addressing the unique challenges faced in the workplace. 

Spain has become the first country in Europe to pass a law that allows individuals who experience severe menstrual pain to take paid menstrual leave from work. This law gives the right to a three-day menstrual leave of absence - with the possibility of extending it to five days - for those experiencing disabling periods, which can cause severe cramps, nausea, dizziness and even vomiting. The leave requires a doctor's note as proof of the leave. Individuals will be eligible to receive financial support for their menstrual leave through the public social security system. The law states that the new policy will help combat the stereotypes and myths that still surround periods and hinder menstruators' lives.

In Canada, there is currently no federal law mandating paid menstrual leave for employees. However, some employers may offer menstrual leave as part of their employee benefits packages or provide accommodations for employees who experience severe menstrual symptoms.

Several companies in other countries have also taken the initiative to create their menstrual leave policies, even though there is no federal policy in place. For example, Australian company Modibodi, launched menstrual, menopause, and miscarriage leave in 2021. Indian-based company Zomato introduced a period of leave of up to 10 days per year for menstruators in 2020.

Some companies in India have started to offer menstrual leave as part of their employment policies. The state of Bihar was the first to introduce menstrual leave for menstruators who work in government jobs or public sector organizations. Since then, some private companies such as Culture Machine and Gozoop have also implemented menstrual leave policies for their menstruating employees. It is important to note that while some companies in India are offering menstrual leave, it is not a mandatory requirement under Indian labor law. 

Bangladesh introduced a menstrual leave policy in 2017, where the country's government introduced a law allowing menstruators to take up to two days of paid menstrual leave per month. The policy is designed to help menstruators cope with painful menstruation and reduce the stigma surrounding menstruation. 

How can you find out if your employer offers menstrual leave? 

The best way to find out if the employer offers menstrual leave is to check the company’s policies and employee handbook. If you don’t have access to these documents, you can speak with your HR representative or manager to ask about the company’s policies regarding menstrual leave.

What if your employer doesn’t have an official policy — can you still take time off? 

It’s possible to take time off for period-related symptoms under standard sick leave, though this can be tricky if your employer requires a doctor’s note. Depending on the company, this leave may be paid or unpaid.

If your workplace’s sick leave allowance is generous, you may have enough days each year to take time off when on your period and when you’re feeling unwell for other reasons. 

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How to ask your employer for menstrual leave

Asking for menstrual leave can be uncomfortable, but it is important to remember that you have the right to take care of your health and well-being. Here are some tips on how to approach your employer:

  1. Know company policy: Before approaching your employer about menstrual leave, it's important to know if it's already an existing policy in your company.
  2. Be honest and direct: When asking for menstrual leave, be straightforward and honest with your employer about your condition. Explain the symptoms you experience and how they affect your ability to work effectively.
  3. Be prepared to offer alternatives: If your employer is hesitant to grant menstrual leave, be prepared to offer alternative solutions such as working from home or taking sick leave.
  4. Provide medical documentation: If necessary, provide medical documentation from a doctor to support your request for menstrual leave.
  5. Follow up: After making your request, follow up with your employer to ensure that everything is in order and that they are aware of your needs.

Remember, everyone experiences menstrual cycles differently, and it's important to prioritize your health and well-being during this time.

Does it benefit menstruators or further stigmatize menstruation?

The idea of menstrual leave, which would allow menstruators to take time off from work during their menstruation, is a topic of debate worldwide. On one hand, proponents argue that it would provide employees with the necessary time and space to manage their symptoms and take care of their health.

On the other hand, opponents argue that menstrual leave could further stigmatize menstruation by reinforcing the idea that all menstruators are weak and unable to perform their jobs during this time. Employers are maybe less likely to hire women if they believe that they will need to take time off each month.

Ultimately, whether menstrual leave benefits menstruators or reinforces stigma depends on how it is implemented and perceived. If it is offered as a supportive measure to help menstruators manage their health and well-being, it could be a positive development.

Cartoon depiction of a person with long hair clutching their abdomen in pain with a calendar behind them indicating a 4-day period. A work set-up (desk, computer, chair, etc.) is present as well. 

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Are there any drawbacks to consider?

If companies implement period leave inclusively, employees should not typically have to disclose their menstrual status, instead labeling it as sick leave. Requiring staff to tell their employer they wish to take period leave specifically runs the risk of them being forced to “out” themselves, potentially leading to further discrimination.

Additionally, there is a concern that menstrual leave policies could create additional administrative burdens and cost employers, especially smaller businesses. It may also be difficult to properly monitor and regulate the use of the leave.

Lastly, some experts suggest that menstrual leave policies may not adequately address the root causes of menstrual pain and discomfort. Instead, employers should focus on creating a supportive and flexible work environment that allows all employees, regardless of gender, to take time off when they need it for health reasons.

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In closing, menstrual leave is a policy that allows menstruators to take time off work during their menstrual cycle. It is aimed at promoting gender equality and addressing the physical and emotional challenges that menstruator face during menstruation. While many countries around the world have recognized the need for menstrual leave, it remains a controversial topic in some places.


Original article written by: Mushfika Anjum on March 30th, 2023.

Revised and updated by: Niki Oveisi on October 27th, 2023.

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