With Spain planning menstrual leave, how far behind is the UK?

Paula Allen – LifeWorks

May 23, 2022

The pandemic has triggered many changes in the workplace, one being the responsibility for employee wellbeing and mental health. We’ve already seen workplace changes spread across Europe, including in Belgium and Portugal, changing their laws to reflect the “right to disconnect” so that employers cannot contact employees in outside contractual hours. In the UK, 60 companies will also take part in the trial of a four-day working week.

Now, Spain plans to introduce menstrual leave in the workplace, which, if approved, will mark a major European milestone.

The reform is part of a set of proposals around reproductive health that aims to provide three days of menstrual leave per month with a doctor’s note, for women who suffer from severe menstrual pain. The bill and other provisions gave people with particularly excruciating and debilitating menstrual pain five days of sick leave each month.

The move comes amid a broader conversation about treating menstruation as a health issue and tackling employees’ habit of working sick.

In our Mental Health Index, we found that almost half of UK employees (47%) reported doing their job when they were not feeling well (physically or psychologically) at least one day a week. There is a clear stigma around employees taking sick leave, as evidenced by our findings, and this stigma is further heightened when it comes to women’s health, including menstruation and menopause.

If menstrual leave is approved, employers will face some challenges, such as making sure the new reform doesn’t create a backlash against women in the workplace and that employees who experience period pain feel comfortable. to request medical support and report it to their employee.

What’s more, employers and employees themselves need to know when they are too sick to do their job. The main sign is that one simply cannot do the tasks assigned to them. This may include difficulty concentrating or the inability to lift necessary objects during manual labor. In extreme circumstances, employees may even become a risk to themselves or others if they continue to work, especially if they are in security-related positions and cannot react quickly.

While these things often seem clearer for cases of physical injury like a broken limb, the same is true for mental health and women’s health issues.

This is because menstruation can put enormous pressure on our bodies and our well-being, which can make it difficult to continue labor.

With the current prevalence of working from home, there is the trap of thinking that people can work sick because they are at home. Working from home is simply a matter of location. Location may make it easier for people to stop and start tasks based on how they feel, but that doesn’t completely solve the problem. The need for self-care is ever so important, as is the ability to develop a plan that works for the employee as well as the workplace. Having a plan where health is favorable and work is sustainable is key.

Historic changes such as ‘menstrual leave’ in Spain reflect the growing awareness of employee well-being, but if we really want to prioritize the well-being of our employees, then employee well-being must be embedded in the work culture at every stage, rather than depending on a single action.