Workplaces need period-friendly policies

At present, only a handful of countries offer menstrual leave.

The trade union Fórsa has called employers to do more to address stigma and other issues around menstrual health through “period- and menopause-friendly policies” in workplaces across the economy, following a motion at the union’s national conference on Friday.

According to a survey published by the union, only 1% of employees have the protection of a menstrual health policy in their workplace, although 96% of respondents favoured the introduction of such a policy in their own workplace.

Fórsa found that one-in-four respondents had been diagnosed with a specific condition which resulted in medical symptoms, including very heavy bleeding, migraines, and nausea, with 70% having taken time off work because of their periods.

A menstrual-friendly policy could include measures like access to flexible work arrangements, improved training for supervisors and line managers, action to address deep-seated stigma, and practical improvements in toilet facilities, office fabrics, and temperature control for those who experience hot flushes or other menopausal symptoms.

Flexible working

Fórsa’s Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown branch, which has pioneered local employee surveys on the subject, proposed the motion. Branch secretary Róisín Cronin said: “We began discussing how much easier it was to manage some of our symptoms at home, when faced with difficult periods, menstrual health conditions and the effects of menopause. Not having to worry about finding an individual clean toilet or a private place to wash a menstrual cup was just a massive relief for so many.

“If working from home during the pandemic made such a positive difference, it seemed obvious that the issue was not being properly addressed in the workplace.”

The research found that over 70% of those who worked at home during the pandemic found that remote working improved their experience of menstruation. Respondents cited better access to measures to alleviate issues with menstruation and menopause, while avoiding commuting when experiencing cramps, nausea and hot flushes was also positive. Other factors cited included not having to worry about leakages and staining, as well as having easy access to suitable places to change pads and tampons or wash a menstrual cup.

“Remote working and other flexible work arrangements are key to a healthier, happier and more productive working life for many, many women,” said Fórsa’s equality officer, Ashley Connolly.

“And it has broader consequences for the way sick leave is consumed by thousands of women across the country. This conversation needs to start, and we need to deliver results for women quickly.”