Total Rewards (Comp & Benefits)

World of HR: Spain becomes the first European country to approve period leave

New legislation allows menstruating people with serious symptoms to take time off work.
article cover

Francis Scialabba

· 3 min read

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

Our HR newsletter delivers need-to-know industry news and insights to HR pros every weekday for free.

We’ll spare you any sixth-grade jokes about periods. Despite it being a natural biological event, there’s still a lot of stigma associated with menstruation, especially in the workplace. But new legislation in Spain is trying to make it easier for women to stay at home when their periods impede their daily lives.

Where in the world? Spain is set to become the first European country to provide menstrual leave. According to legislation approved by the Spanish parliament last month, workers experiencing severe period pain or other symptoms will be allowed to stay home. The Spanish social security system, not employers, will cover the cost of the menstrual leave and it will require a doctor’s note for approval, according to Euronews.

People can experience several uncomfortable symptoms during menstruation, including fatigue, headache, cramping, and back pain. Periods aren’t just a literal pain—they can also hurt productivity, according to research from the University of Virginia. Around 45.2% of women in the US said their symptoms have required them to miss work.

Not all female scholars think period-leave policies are progressive, according to the Washington Post. “Opponents are worried menstrual leave will reinforce negative gender stereotypes and notions of biological determinism, leading to more employer discrimination against women,” Marian Baird, professor of gender and employment relations at the University of Sydney, told the paper.

Satellite view. While Spain is the first in Europe, it’s not the first government to guarantee work leave for menstruation. The benefit is commonplace in other countries, including Taiwan, Indonesia, and South Korea.

It seems unlikely that period leave will be mandated in the US though, where federal workplace regulations are usually left to employers. However, if an employee suffers from extreme symptoms, like premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), they may be entitled to time off under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Nadya Okamoto is CEO of August, a period-centered business, told Fast Company that leaders can make company culture more period-friendly. Instead of having period-specific leave, she said the focus should be on flexibility and allowing employees to do what’s right for their bodies. Furthermore, Okamoto pointed to employee resource groups as a way to help reduce the red elephant stigma. “So much of it is ripping off the Band-Aid of telling a period story and starting the conversation,” she told the magazine.—KP

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

Our HR newsletter delivers need-to-know industry news and insights to HR pros every weekday for free.