Pads? Check. Painkillers? Check. Struggling through your 9 to 5? Check.
Period PTO, or paid time off during one’s menstrual cycle, is sparking conversation everywhere we look. And it’s time we finally say something in response to the key question: should women be required to work through painful periods?
Our answer? No, you should NOT have to work during your period if your symptoms are debilitating. The case for period leave is pretty strong. Not convinced? Here’s every naysayer’s argument we’ve heard against it — and our rebuttal.
“Periods are just a part of life. Deal with it.”
Ugh. False narratives around menstruation have existed as long as folks have been menstruating (which is forever). While menstruation is, indeed, a natural bodily process, the negative symptoms that often come along for the ride aren’t “just a part of life” — they’re painful, uncomfortable conditions that can disrupt an entire day.
In fact, 43% of women surveyed in an NIH study reported having dysmenorrhea every single period, or menstrual pain so severe it requires medication and “disrupts the ability to function socially.” Call us crazy, but being doubled over with cramps and unable to participate in water cooler convo doesn’t sound like something to be ignored.
“Well, periods can’t be that bad for everyone.”
If you menstruate and can breeze through a work day on your period—even do a cartwheel or two—that’s awesome. But that isn’t the case for countless menstruators. So, if you’re suffering through any of these especially wild symptoms on a monthly basis:
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Sensitivity to auditory simulation
- Severe migraines
- Flu-like symptoms
- Extreme fatigue
You shouldn’t have to feel lazy, guilty, or be reprimanded for taking a day off of work to cope.
And if you’ve never menstruated, this may not be something you can easily imagine enduring every 28 days. Which means: you shouldn’t really be insisting that someone can “work through it.”
“How hard can it be to just answer a few emails?”
If you’re only envisioning sedentary jobs when we talk about period leave, remember that’s only a small portion of the existing workforce. According to the Department of Labor, women make up 46.8% of the labor force in the United States—that includes all industries and all types of labor. Physical exertion is unavoidable throughout the day for those who work in education, retail, fitness, construction, and many more.
In any job, pain affects your performance. Distracted work is not effective work—and there’s nothing more distracting than severe cramps, bloating, and intestinal upset.
P.S. It’s never “just a few emails.”
“There’s no precedent for period PTO.”
Benefits that we consider to be essential today, like parental and medical leave, weren’t formally introduced in the U.S. until 1993. They’re current pillars of any healthy employee experience now, but those policies did face opposition and may have seemed off the wall to some at that time. For some countries, the Period PTO wave has already started: Spain, Zambia, South Korea, Japan, and Thailand have already enacted menstrual leave policies on a national level. And companies in Canada, Australia, and India are following suit.
“What if people use period leave as an excuse to take extra time off?”
This is a suspicion often held against employees who take parental leave, bereavement, and extended medical leave…do you really want to be among that crowd? Taking time off work to rest during a severely painful monthly visit isn’t laziness—it’s survival.
“But periods aren’t inherently a medical condition.”
Sure, but gynecologists and medical experts have made it clear that severe period pain is not normal—it’s a critical indicator for uterine and hormonal diseases. Endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women in the United States—and on average, women will suffer from it for 10 years before getting a diagnosis. Why? Because of widespread, dated narratives that insist periods are meant to be excruciating and simply suffered through. The result is a lot of folks ‘grinning and bearing it’ through undiagnosed endometriosis, PCOS, and other serious conditions.
So, when someone insists a painful period isn’t a good enough reason for a few hours off the clock, they might be invalidating an employee with an undiagnosed medical condition, and denying them some much needed recovery time.
“This is why people don’t take women in the workforce seriously.”
Oh, boo. Boooo! Besides the obvious thumbs down a sexist comment like this gets from us, let’s remember that prioritizing health is essential to a successful, long-term career. As long as an employee meets their goals, what they do to care for their health is no one else’s business.
“There have to be ways to manage periods so they don’t affect work.”
Absolutely! There are scientifically-designed products that help with debilitating pain, bloating, and a bunch of other not-so-great symptoms — but sometimes, you just need a full day off to rest. And that’s okay.
“So what, an entire week off, every month? That’s insane.”
Period leave policies vary in terms of time allotted; leave allowances range anywhere from three days a year to five days a month. Not everyone needs more than a day — but for those that do, flexible policies are essential. Wanna know what’s really insane? Battling anal cramps during a Zoom meeting.
The truth is, paid menstrual leave may always feel like a wild idea to those who don’t suffer through painful periods—and that’s fine. But it offers reprieve to the half of the labor force that is affected by menstrual symptoms. Period PTO doesn’t mean every menstruating employee will disappear for a full week. It means that those who suffer from debilitating symptoms can recover without fearing retaliation or loss of income. And any healthy workplace should care about that. Period.Not currently employed at a company with an official menstrual leave policy? Here's how to start a convo with your boss about it.