Employment law commentators have welcomed a recent survey of 1,000 women for a Radio 5 live programme. It found that most women’s work is affected by period pain.

The Emma Barnett programme set up a confessional booth to allow women to speak anonymously about their experience of period pain at work.

Period pain takes the form of spasms, sometimes accompanied by nausea, diarrhoea and headaches. The symptom, a cramp caused when the womb contracts to shed its lining, affects 90% of women. It affects 52% of women badly enough to interfere with their work.

17% of women have taken at least a day off in their careers because of it, the study found.

Employment law and your period pain 1
Would this be strange in your workplace? Image courtesy of Michigan used under CC

Menstruation is normal, but some women, especially those in predominantly male workplaces suffer in silence. Only a quarter of those having problems open up to their manager about the cause. Common excuses include headaches, stomach pains, colds or flu. Staff may instead lie outright and say they are going to a medical appointment.

This issue doesn’t really have an established place in employment law in the UK. The news media reporting on this survey have turned up a few enlightened employers which give time off to staff who may be suffering. However, this is far from common, in our experience.

Menstrual leave is given to female employees in Japan. Some companies elsewhere give leave which is a combination of sickness and holiday, to do with as employees want.

Employment law and your period pain 2
Image courtesy of Whatsername, used under CC

If managers are male, which tends to be the case, women fear they won’t be treated sympathetically because the condition is poorly-understood and rarely discussed by men. They sometimes fear discussion about the monthly cycle for fear of being belittled as “hormonal”.

Perhaps  because this issue is one that is hard for employees to talk about, there are no employment law cases on the topic. But if an employee felt they were being treated unfairly in performance reviews, attendance processes or dismissal, then there could be claims for sex discrimination or even disability discrimination.


Article by Jason Harbourne
Image of woman in pain courtesy of Britt-knee, used under CC