26% of UK employees fear their boss won’t consider period pain a good enough reason for sick leave–and a quarter of those have resorted to lying about it, a recent survey found.
So how should you handle this as an employer? Is period pain a legit reason for absence? And should employers be obliged to offer “menstrual leave”? It might be that time...
Policy and procedure
You probably have an absence policy in your employee handbook and a reporting procedure for employees calling in sick. There’s no need for you to depart from this procedure if someone cites menstrual issues as their reason for absence–in fact, if you take the view that this isn’t a legitimate illness, you could be liable for discriminatory conduct.
However, you may want to ask questions to understand the situation better. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a serious condition that’s different from period pain and can last much longer, so understanding what your employee is dealing with can help you judge how long they’re likely to be absent and what your best course of action is.
You have the right to review your employee’s explanations, consider any trends, discuss their level of absence with them and consider what steps both you and they can take to address it.
There’s no legal right to menstrual leave in the UK, but other countries including Japan and Korea have been offering it for over 50 years.
Ending the stigma
If you want employees to be honest with you about their reasons for absence, you’ll also want to think about tackling the stigma of period talk. Normalising period pain is an equality, diversity, and inclusion issue and could help to boost employee engagement. Strategies include:
Offering training for managers, particularly around return to work interviews, to ensure employees feel safe to speak up about their needs.
- Making sure your absence policy and procedure are fair, especially if you use absence trigger points.
- Acting reasonably and in accordance with your absence policy if you notice an employee showing a pattern of short absences–especially around once a month.
- Being flexible about employees’ needs and considering what facilities and adjustments you can offer, such as flexible hours and occasional remote working.
Period pain and PMS are boringly normal, and they’re seriously affecting some of your employees. It’s time to stop treating them as shameful.