If you’re a person with a period, chances are your menstrual cycle has affected your daily functioning at some point or another—if not every single month. More than 150 PMS and period symptoms have been identified and the spectrum is vast, ranging from mild and slightly annoying to severe and all-out debilitating. Which is why some countries and workplaces have instituted menstrual leave policies offering dedicated time off for workers who menstruate. 

In theory, these policies deserve all the applause. To recognize that menstruation is a biological function that comes with pain and chronic symptoms that impact a person’s work ability *is* progress. But in practice? They could do more harm than good. 

TikTok user and period advocate Kathryn of @bloodyhonest breaks down the controversy on menstrual leave in the workplace in just 59 seconds. 

@bloodyhonest What are your thoughts? 👀 Should ‘menstrual leave’ be a thing!? #periods #periodtalk #periodeducation #menstrualleave @bloodygoodperiod ♬ original sound - Bloody Honest

What is menstrual leave?

Menstrual leave is dedicated time off from work for menstruation-related issues, which is separate from sick leave or other types of paid leave. Depending on the policy, it may be paid or unpaid, but it’s designed to recognize the fact that periods can cause physical pain or discomfort alongside a slew of other symptoms, such as fatigue, brain fog, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, sleep issues, irritability, anxiety, aggression and many others that may make it difficult to work or require medication to do so. 

On paper, menstrual leave policies encourage people with periods to respect and honor their cycles and take time off from work to manage their periods and menstrual health. 

Related: This company has created 'paid period leave' for its employees

“It’s incredibly painful to have a uterus, and yet, from a young age, we’re taught to push through this pain and keep working,” said Sonya Passi, CEO of Chani, an astrology app that offers paid menstrual leave, in The Washington Post.

These policies are also designed to acknowledge the fact that a stigma very much exists around periods and menstruation—but that millions of workers menstruate each day. 

Countries including Japan, China, Indonesia and Zambia have had menstrual leave policies in place for decades (though mostly out of concern that working will impact women’s childbearing ability). This year, Spain is close to becoming the first Western country to offer menstrual leave. Spain’s policy outlines that those with a doctor’s note confirming severe period pain can stay home for three days per month.

Related: This viral TikTok shows you exactly how menstrual cups work (and why they can't get lost!)

Do we really need menstrual leave?

As outlined in her TikTok, Kathryn explains that menstrual leave may not be as helpful as it seems. “In my opinion, [we don’t] need a whole separate segment of leave that continues to ‘other’ people who period,” she says.

She’s right: Experts worry that taking menstrual leave might inadvertently increase discrimination in the workplace by further perpetuating the myths that menstruators are “too emotional” or otherwise “ill-equipped” to work during their periods. They also might result in situations where people with periods are overlooked for promotions or hire because they’d require more time off than people without periods.

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The policy may also further segment or detach periods and gynecological health from other health issues, notes Kathryn. Endometriosis, for example, a condition causing debilitating periods, is technically considered a progressive chronic disease, but offering menstrual leave instead of standard sick leave for the “period-related condition” means it’s not viewed in the same light as other chronic diseases that aren’t period-related. 

We just need better sick leave

“It would be better to have workplaces start recognizing that periods and period-related issues are a genuine reason to have time off,” Kathryn argues, “And to accept them within the parameters of standard sick leave.”

Ultimately, we don’t need separate menstrual leave, we just need expanded sick leave policies that encompass menstruation and gynecological conditions as valid reasons for taking a sick day. Menstrual leave policies would also mean notifying your workplace that you have your period and can’t work, which brings up privacy concerns, versus a sick day, which doesn’t require as much specification. 

Related: I'm a menstrual cup convert

“One recent study found that almost half of people who period would rather tell their boss they’re off work with diarrhea than periods or period-related problems,” Kathryn notes. “Whether that’s to do with embarrassment or concern that it won’t be seen as a ‘justified reason’... but we need to start making workplaces more understanding of people who period.”