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Period leave —also known as menstrual leave —has existed for decades in some parts of the world.

But in the United States, people rarely experience it in workplaces.

So, what’s it all about? Is period leave all it’s shaped up to be, or are there some hidden disadvantages to consider? And how can you introduce it in your workplace?

Read on to find out answers to all of the above and more.

Period leave is a workplace policy that gives people time off while on their period. A workplace provides this leave in addition to standard sick leave.

Generally, the expectation is that people will only use period leave if they’re unable to work —for example, if they’re in significant pain or discomfort.

But there isn’t a set definition or set number of days a person can take off.

Such leave may be paid in some places and unpaid in others. Some employers may allow people flexible options, such as the ability to work from home instead of taking a day off.

Period leave started decades ago in countries like Russia and China, with the aim of “protecting” fertility levels.

Now, there’s a growing movement to introduce it universally and normalize the effects periods can have on a person.

While you’ll find period leave policies in places like Japan, Indonesia, and Mexico, it’s still a rare sight in the U.S.

In countries where there’s no national policy, like the U.K. and Australia, some employers have introduced their own.

Some offer one paid day of period leave a month that needs a sign-off by a manager beforehand.

Others give employees a choice: Take a day of leave, work from home, or temporarily move to a more comfortable part of the office.

A few employers in the U.S. have followed a similar path.

Software company Nuvento allows staff to take one paid day of period leave per month, and astrology company Chani offers “unlimited menstrual leave for people with uteruses.”

But right now, there’s no federal law that requires an employer to provide paid sick leave, let alone paid period leave.

Demand is potentially building, though. A 2019 survey involving 600 people found that 45% would support menstrual leave in the U.S.

When you join a new company, the organization typically provides you with the company policies, such as sick leave. People will usually include period leave in this category.

If you’ve been in a job for a while but aren’t sure if your employer offers period leave, ask a manager or the human resources department for a copy of the sick leave policy.

You can specifically ask about period leave if you feel comfortable doing so.

It’s possible to take time off for period-related symptoms under standard sick leave, though this can be tricky if your employer requires you to tell them why you need time off. Depending on the company, this leave may be paid or unpaid.

If your workplace’s sick leave allowance is generous, you may have enough days each year to take time off when on your period and when you’re feeling unwell for other reasons.

But some sick leave policies may be insufficient —by taking days off for your period, you may run the risk of having no sick days available for other situations.

To prevent issues like the above, it might be worthwhile to speak with your employer about introducing period leave.

Templates exist to help companies implement such a policy. Plus, you can point your employer to resources, like the above survey, to show the growing demand for period leave and the increase in annual productivity they are likely to see.

It’s also a good opportunity to promote more flexible working for all —even people who don’t have periods may welcome the idea of being able to work from home more often or take days off for issues that don’t fall under “standard” sick leave policies or that they feel uncomfortable discussing.

Indeed, not everyone who has a period may wish to take time off during it. Some may want to work from home when possible, while others may wish to work in a more comfortable part of the office, rather than at their desks.

It’s also important to discuss staff education, inclusivity, and privacy if an employer implements a period leave.

For example, not everyone who menstruates will feel comfortable telling their employer when they have their period.

One way to navigate this issue is to log period leave as standard sick leave and ensure the sick leave policy specifically mentions menstrual symptoms and covers enough days for this throughout the year.

Introducing period leave into the workplace can have myriad benefits, though there is a lack of research on the topic.

By having open conversations about periods and their effects, people who menstruate may feel more comfortable discussing their health with employers and other staff members. This can eliminate the stigma around menstruation, boost well-being, and increase workplace productivity and company loyalty.

And those who still don’t feel comfortable openly discussing their menstruation —for example, nonbinary or transgender people — have the option not to disclose it if the policy categorizes period leave as part of standard sick leave.

Plus, some companies who have implemented menstrual leave find that even those who don’t menstruate support the idea, as it promotes looking after one’s body and adjusting one’s working day to suit.

If companies implement period leave inclusively, employees should not typically have to disclose their menstrual status, instead labeling it as sick leave.

Requiring staff to tell their employer they wish to take period leave specifically runs the risk of them being forced to “out” themselves, potentially leading to further discrimination.

There’s also a concern that period leave policies could support the myth that people are incompetent and irrational when on their periods, which may have a detrimental impact on their career progression, salary levels, and workplace relationships.

Indeed, in the 1980s in Japan, people who took period leave faced discrimination and harassment from employers.

Additionally, a 2019 study reported that almost half of participants believed a period leave policy in the U.S. would only have negative effects such as discrimination, with some respondents from the same study stating that menstruation isn’t debilitating for everyone.

Therefore, it’s vital that managers actively promote such policies and even take period leave themselves, when appropriate, to normalize it.

Of course, there’s also the issue that people who don’t menstruate may feel discriminated against, as they’re not entitled to extra leave.

Offering more annual sick leave and announcing that it includes period-related symptoms is one way to avoid discrimination complaints.

And ensuring that staff doesn’t have to state why they’re taking sick leave can protect employees who may not feel comfortable discussing menstruation needs.

Ultimately, people need to feel able to take time off during their period or work in a more flexible way for any form of menstrual leave to work.

Therefore, inclusivity and confidentiality must be a priority. But exactly what that looks like is likely going to be a work in progress for some time.

Still, if you’d like to see period leave in your workplace, there’s a chance to have a conversation with your employer about the advantages and highlight other companies who are paving the way.

Lauren Sharkey is a U.K.-based journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.