The menstrual cycle is probably not a common topic of conversation in the workplace, but the article below serves as a good reminder of some of the issues that can arise. After all, periods do affect a large proportion of working people and apparently 57% of those who took period-related sickness absence lied about their reasons for taking the sick day. This just demonstrates what a taboo the subject is.

There are a number of potential employment law issues to consider, including:

  • Could the individual have a disability? – Symptoms vary enormously from person to person. However, some women do suffer very badly so it is not inconceivable that their conditions amount to a disability. However, it will depend on the severity and effects of the symptoms suffered and if they are ongoing or reoccurring in nature. The Equality Act 2010 defines “disability” as a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Medical advice would probably be needed in order to determine whether this test is met. Disabled employees have the right not to be discriminated against but there is also an obligation on the employer to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate them.
  • Beware of workplace harassment – Again, there is a legal definition as to what harassment is and essentially it is when one person engages in unwanted conduct relating to another’s protected characteristic (for example, someone’s sex) which has the purpose or effect of either violating their dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. Workplace banter and derogatory comments about women and their periods might well fall foul and the employer can be held liable.

Some workplaces have gone as far as introducing formal “period policies” to tackle the issue (for example, allowing paid period leave days), whereas others have simply tried to make it less of a taboo topic and introduced more subtle changes to help make menstruating employees more comfortable at work (for example, having access to painkillers and sanitary wear). Small steps can help reduce the stigma surrounding the topic.