An employer in Bristol, Coexist, has decided to offer all female employees 'period leave' in order to foster a more productive workplace.
I've not seen the small print on this policy, but reading the report it sounds like a fairly rational, sensible and straightforward approach. The article quotes Coexist's director as saying that the policy is not about taking time off but "working more flexibly and efficiently around their menstrual cycle and encouraging a work-life balance”. So it may be that the policy allows women to work from home during times of discomfort, or put in more hours when they return to work to make up for lost time. Alternatively, it may simply be that Coexist has decided to spell out that severe discomfort caused by menstruation will be considered by the company as a condition justifying taking time off as sick leave.
Whatever the approach, I imagine that there will be plenty of commentators who criticise this policy - almost immediately, for example, the Daily Mail has generated a headline suggesting the approach is unfair to male staff.
From an employment law point of view, I see little issue. A male employee could try to bring an indirect discrimination claim - indirect discrimination being, in brief, where an employer has a policy that is applied to all staff but which negatively impacts a group of employees due to their protected characteristic (here, gender). Indirect discrimination can (unlike direct discrimination) be objectively justified - here I would imagine that an employer could argue that improving productivity, positivity and happiness in the workplace and ensuring that workers feel comfortable taking leave when they are unable to work are likely to be acceptable as objective justifications.
Nor is this the first time that anything like this has been tried. It would appear that Nike trialed a similar project as long ago as 2007 - demonstrating that a huge, multinational company can manage absences caused menstruation pain in a sensible way. Female employees in China are also reportedly entitled to take 'period leave' - although they apparently need to provide a doctor's note, something that might provide a disincentive for taking-up such a benefit.
From a workplace relations point of view, I would support such a policy. It seems unlikely to me that there would be abuse to any serious extent. The NHS reports that between two and 14 per cent of women suffer from extreme period pain, so I would be surprised if such a policy led to significant, prolonged absences. But more generally, it seems prudent that employers should ensure that those individuals who do suffer from discomfort to such an extent that they are unable to work are not pressured into attending for attendance's sake only - just as you would with any employee who needs to take sick leave.
A company has introduced a “period policy” in an effort to give women more flexibility and “create a happier and healthier working environment”. Coexist, a community interest firm in Bristol, has a largely female workforce and believes tapping into employees’ natural cycles will benefit everyone. It hopes to tackle the taboo of menstruation by becoming the first company in the UK to introduce a policy to allow women leave if they are suffering.