Period Leave: Why it Matters (and How To Ask Your Boss For It)
Addressing menstruation at the workplace: Navigating period leave conversations
Published November 3, 2023.
Period leave is time off from work because the symptoms make it difficult to perform your duties. But this can be a sensitive and challenging topic, especially if you must tell your boss. Here's why this leave is necessary and how you can raise awareness in your company.
Understanding Menstrual Leave
So, what is menstrual leave exactly?
Menstrual leave is an absence from work due to symptoms you experience during this time. Many women don't need it, as they can manage the symptoms with or without over-the-counter (OTC) medication. But, those with endometriosis can benefit from time off, as it can give them time to relax and lower pain and stress levels.
Why Menstrual Leave Matters
Having time off can help you learn better symptom management techniques, give you time to rest, and help you be more productive when you go back to work. On days when I'm having terrible cramps, I can't focus on my tasks. The delay makes me feel stressed and frantic while trying to catch up.
Some of the most common period symptoms can be distracting at best and debilitating at worst, including:
- Mood swings
Approaching the Conversation
Talking about a period with your boss can be difficult. So here are some tips about how to approach the conversation.
- Choose an appropriate time to speak to your manager or a colleague from HR. You can set up a meeting and talk to them privately.
- Get a physician's note explaining the situation and asking for time off to manage your symptoms.
- Keep it simple. Many people don't want to hear about medical issues at work, so stick to the facts.
- If you're uncomfortable with speaking in person, send a professional-sounding email. The written proof can even help you negotiate terms.
- Make a plan. Whether that's three days of unpaid time off for each cycle or making up for lost time a week after. A proposal lets everyone know you've considered various scenarios.
If you track your cycle biomarkers —like basal body temperature (BBT) with Tempdrop—you should know up to 14 days before you get your period. The ability to plan ahead can help you negotiate since you can inform your manager or HR in advance.
Sample Phrases for Requesting Menstrual Leave
- "I experience disabling pain during my period."
- "During my period, I get cramps that make it difficult for me to function."
- "I don't feel comfortable driving to work during my period as I experience severe dizziness."
- "I'd like to take three unpaid days off each cycle to manage my pain. I can give you an idea of which ones I'll need roughly a week ahead."
- "On cycles when I can't function, I'd like up to four days off. I can catch up in the following one to two weeks."
- "I'd like to work half days during my period to manage pain."
- "I'd like to work from home during my period to have more comfort measures and medications available to manage my pain."
Navigating Legal and Company Policies
Paid menstrual leave is slowly becoming more common in countries around the world. But many of them aren't regulated and left up to your employer. Your company should create leave policies for you to review. Those that may be applicable include sick leave or medical leave.
Global Perspectives on Menstrual Leave
Some of the countries that have menstrual leave laws include:
- Taiwan allows women to apply for menstrual leave but doesn't specify paid time or how much you can take.
- Spain requires a doctor's note, which covers three days in normal circumstances or five for disabling pain. The leave is paid through the government's social security program.
- Japan established its menstrual leave policy in 1947, though length and payments varied by employer. The country removed the law later, but evidence suggests some companies still offer period leave.
- South Korea offers one day of menstrual leave per month.
- Indonesia has two days of menstrual leave each month.
- Mexico has one day of menstrual leave for women with disabling symptoms working in federal courts, though it doesn't specify the length.
- Zambia allows one day of menstrual leave each month.
- China's provinces, Anhui, Shanxi and Hubei, offer menstrual leave.
Empowering Conversations: Bridging the Gender Gap at Work
Most of our bosses have at least one close woman—a sister, mother, wife, or daughter. While it can be scary to talk to them, it's likely not their first encounter with the topic. Period symptoms can make it challenging to perform at work—and time off work encourages you to care for yourself—boosting productivity in the time you're working.