It was announced on 16th February 2023 that Spain would be the first country in Europe to offer paid menstrual leave to employees.
The Spanish menstrual leave law was spearheaded by Irene Montero, the Minister of Equality, and was finally passed last week after months of consideration. The left-wing member of the “United We Can” party tweeted: “Without such rights, women are not full citizens”.
Period pain, also known as dysmenorrhea, can have a debilitating effect on women every cycle. This pain often leads to women taking time off work until their symptoms start to go away.
In this article, we look at:
- The Spanish Menstrual Leave Law
- Changes in Spanish Laws
- Menstrual Leave Around the Globe
- Menstrual Leave in the UK
- Disadvantages of Paid Menstrual Leave
- Advantages of Paid Menstrual Leave
Spanish employees will be entitled to three days of paid leave if they need time off for menstrual pain. This may be increased to five days for particularly severe and debilitating cases (e.g. dizziness, vomiting).
Employees requesting paid menstrual leave will need a doctor’s note to confirm the reason for their absence. One time doesn’t account for all, though. An assessment and note will be required for every instance of menstrual leave. It is not yet known whether this law will support those who are self-employed.
Paid Menstrual Leave is a progressive law that is part of a wider plan in Spain. Additional changes will see the country further supporting sexual and reproductive rights. Other changes include:
- Right to have an abortion from age 16, without parental consent.
- Free feminine hygiene products in educational and prison settings.
- Ability to change gender on ID without medical supervision for individuals over 16.
- Paid pre-partum leave from 36 weeks.
- Free contraceptives and morning-after pills.
These changes are significant and will certainly make an international splash. Not only that, there will be big changes to Spain’s customs and practices. For example, it’s reported that more than 80% of terminations are currently carried out in private clinics. This is a result of doctors refusing to carry out terminations due to religious reasons. Changes to the law will mean a fundamental change to these procedures.
Spain can be seen leading the way in the area of sexual and reproductive rights and it’s made other European countries look up and start to think about their own policies.
Although Spain is the only European country to offer paid menstrual leave, other countries already offer this type of leave. The countries with similar laws in place include:
- South Korea
In 2016, Italy considered implementing a new law that would see paid time off for menstrual pain. However, it has since decided against offering paid menstrual leave.
At present, if an individual experiences severe symptoms linked to their period, they would be able to take sick leave but would not be entitled to any paid time off for the first three days. The Statutory Sick Pay provisions offer a set amount per week to those who meet certain eligibility criteria, but this follows three days off unpaid (also known as ‘waiting days’). Employees may be entitled to company sick pay if it’s included in their contract.
However, statistics suggest that working whilst menstruating is a challenge for women in the UK. UK Period Charity “Bloody Good Period” have found that 73% of women have struggled to carry out their work as a direct result of menstruation. Lack of energy and pain were the most common reasons for finding work challenging at this point in the month.
This begs the question, will the UK government consider similar provisions here in the UK?
If more European countries start rolling out paid menstrual leave, there is a good chance we will follow suit, but it could take a while for the policy to pass through red tape. We’re a while off yet, even if a proposal is put forward. It’s been suggested that we may even be several years away from anything like this becoming law in the UK as it’s not yet on our political agenda.
It’s been hailed as a breakthrough for women’s rights, but what are the potential downsides of this new law?
Stigmatisation of women
It’s possible that women may struggle to secure jobs in the future due to bosses worrying about the level of absence of women. For women with severe pain every month, organisations may have to pay for five days off regularly as a result of period pain. This could have a significant impact on the productivity of small firms.
According to statistics produced by the Spanish Society of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, approximately one-third of women who menstruate experience dysmenorrhea. Consequently, a large percentage of women in Spain may be eligible for paid menstrual leave.
Open to abuse
Although this will inevitably be a small proportion, some women may see it as an entitlement rather than a supportive mechanism.
Ultimately, the diagnosis of menstrual pain is subjective. Doctors are required to accept an individual’s word about the severity of the pain. This will likely lead to abuse of the system, as there is no way to definitively prove whether or not someone is truly experiencing dysmenorrhea.
This perception will undoubtedly perpetuate any stigma created by this law.
However, there are also considerable benefits to offering this type of leave.
Promote employee wellbeing
Wellbeing is a big part of the 2023 agenda for organisations and, it goes without saying that, promoting wellbeing in employees is important for each individual and an organisation as a whole. Supporting employees’ wellbeing has an impact on many areas in the organisation, not just the individual. Enabling women to have paid time off when they are struggling with menstrual pain will reduce presenteeism and drive productivity.
Equity, not equality
Treating men and women equally in respect of time off in this area is not equitable. Spain providing paid time off for menstrual pain demonstrates equitable treatment of women. This leave supports women in the workplace by not putting them at a disadvantage for something biological.
Educate and Destigmatise
Offering leave for menstrual pain educates the workforce about the debilitating effects of menstruation. As a result of this education, the introduction of this leave may help destigmatise conversations about periods. Women may feel more empowered and confident to talk openly about their symptoms rather than trying to hide them.