Should Women Get Paid Time Off When They Have Their Periods?

A proposal by a company in Bristol, England, has ignited a heated debate over the issue.
(Photo: Getty Images)
Mar 2, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Severe cramps, debilitating headaches, excruciating lower-back pain, and extreme fatigue. Those are just some of the symptoms a woman might experience when she’s menstruating—and sometimes popping a few painkillers doesn’t make her feel better. That’s why Coexist, a creative event space based in Bristol, England, is considering a “period policy” that would enable its female employees to take time off when they’re menstruating.

“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,” Bex Baxter, the head of the small company, told the Bristol Post on Monday. “Despite this, they feel they cannot go home because they do not class themselves as unwell.”

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Twenty-four of Coexist’s 31 employees are women, so the company “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,” said Baxter.

Although Baxter believes working around menstrual cycles could boost productivity, the idea has sparked plenty of debate on social media, with some critics writing that the policy “plays into misogynist notions about women.”

Katy Schnitzler, a gender-bias researcher at Kingston University in the U.K., posted a statement on Twitter about the issue. Schnitzler called the idea “innovative” and wrote that it would “help so many women who suffer (often in silence)” and “stop employees having to be dishonest about having a cold, or whatever they feel less embarrassed by saying.” But Schnitzler also asked whether the policy could “result in reaffirming the weak and inferior role of women?”

Menstrual leave was first implemented in Japan in 1947, and Oregon-based Nike has offered it to employees since 2007. But at a time when women are still fighting for paid maternity leave, getting sick time for menstrual cramps remains rare in the United States.

Meanwhile, Coexist clarified on Wednesday that it doesn’t yet have the policy in place. “Our idea is to begin a conversation about flexibility in the workplace to support the natural cycles of women and men,” the company wrote in a statement to TakePart. To that end, Coexist is hosting an event in Bristol “to begin creating a policy and begin test driving it in our organisation.”