Daily Opinion

Why haven’t we normalised taking sick leave for painful and abnormal periods?

It’s time for society and employers to do better.

If you’re an individual that menstruates, then you’ll be all too familiar with the dreaded, painful and frankly uncomfortable physical side effects that come with your period.

Without even addressing the actual bleeding itself, here’s what else periods entails:

  • PMS (including: bloating, mood swings and tender boobs)
  • Cramping
  • Back pain
  • Feeling sick
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhoea
  • Headaches
  • And more…

Even if you’re not a menstruating individual, the shortened and concluded above list, clearly details that periods are not a fun time of the month.

In fact, periods can be really quite awful.

The charity Bloody Good Period and Fever carried out a recent survey. This revealed that 59% of the participants stated that they had a negative experience with their periods. Additionally, this survey revealed that 73% of its participants noted that they struggled to do their work because of their periods.


Out of the 73% noted above, the top reasons for struggling to work included:

  • Low energy (83%)
  • Being in pain (79%)
  • Loss of concentration (61%)
  • Feeling anxious about leaking (57%)
  • Having to stop work to take/buy pain medication (50%)

With this outcome it begs the following question – if so many individuals are affected by their periods, then why aren’t work environments better equipped to meet the needs of their menstruating employees?

In parts of Asia, many companies let their employees take menstrual leave. This allows those menstruating individuals to take time off work for especially difficult and troubling periods. Both Japan and South Korea have had these laws for decades.

Consequently, parts of India and China are now beginning to adopt period leave entitlement.

However, in the UK, menstruating individuals are still expected to use sick leave, if they need to. Despite this, many individuals rarely use sick leave because of their period. This is because talking about periods in the workplace, and indeed in society too, is considered a taboo. The stigma around periods and actually coping with periods still permeates today’s society.

Claire Hutcheson from Birbeck University teamed up with Bloody Good Period to research periods and menstrual wellbeing in the workplace. This was executed so that the scheme ‘Bloody Good Employers’ could be initiated, which aims at creating change for companies, employers, employees and society.

This research details a ‘concentric cycle of silence’ about periods in UK workplaces. This research found that 33% of participants felt that it is far more professional not to mention their menstrual health to their employer.

One British-Asian participant, a cisgender female case study aged 30-39 stated:

“I find it extremely difficult because I get quite bad PMS with regards to emotion and my male manager thinks it is okay to ridicule me for this whilst also managing to say it is fake. So I would only ever talk about menstruation with my female colleague, never with male leadership.”

Let’s talk about society now.

As a result of the ignorance, and complete and utter reluctance as a society to talk openly about periods, this consequently means there is a significant gap in education and knowledge. Subsequently, many (including both males and females) resort to drawing on experience of either themselves or others to make judgements. One black British cisgender female case study aged 21-29 stated:

“Some women think that because they don’t have painful periods that those of us who do are exaggerating. This doesn’t help. I am in agony and actually often pick up colds during my periods which also adds to sick days.”

So what does this mean?

Unfortunately, getting menstrual leave is not the answer. There is no doubt at all that having the ability to have menstrual leave would be both a huge benefit and a step in the right direction. However, until there is less stigma, there is a high chance, unfortunately, that it wouldn’t make a huge difference.

In Japan where period leave entitlement is common, the uptake is incredibly low. CNN Business revealed that a Japanese government survey in 2017 found that only 0/9% of female employees claimed their period leave.

Finally, Gabby Edlin (CEO and Founder of Bloody Good Period) states:

“The issue really comes down to the fact our workplaces were never set up for those who menstruate. A question the mainstream media love to ask about menstrual leave is: ‘So are you expecting men to pick the work?’ But this issue doesn’t start and end with menstrual leave. It’s much more about flexible working. The idea is that if you have an employer that grants menstrual leave, they should also be flexible enough to grant leave to other people when they struggle to work.”