Last week, I heard about a British company, Coexist, that is planning to develop a “period policy” to provide menstrual leave to its female employees. As a female employment attorney, I’m a strong believer in equal rights for women, but this notion struck me as so very … odd. Initially, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, but intuitively it just seemed like a bad idea to me.
So I did a little research, and it turns out that menstrual leave is actually a legal right in certain Asian countries. In 1947, Japan was the first to pass a menstrual leave law. Since then, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea and, most recently in 2013, Taiwan, have also enacted such laws. The laws vary as to whether the leave is paid, half-paid, or unpaid, and how much time off may be taken (e.g. as needed each month, X days per month, X days per year). These laws, however, have proven to be controversial, and their effectiveness has been questioned.
Many argue that the laws perpetuate stereotypes of women as the weaker sex. Some male rights activists (yes, they exist) argue that these laws discriminate against men. One commentator, Tim Worstall at Forbes.com, noted that a new type of paid leave will increase employer costs – and the fact that the paid leave is only available to female employees will likely exacerbate the gender pay gap. Many employers in those countries ignore the laws. And, frankly, it seems that most women are afraid to come forward to ask for menstrual leave, for various reasons – embarrassment, not wanting to burden fellow employees, fear of discrimination or retaliation, etc.