It’s Time To Normalise Taking Sick Leave To Manage Painful Periods

Nearly 50 percent of people who menstruate have had to call in sick during their period.

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Nearly half of people who menstruate in Australia have had to call in sick to work because of their period.

The new ‘Period Pride’ report released on Monday surveyed over 125,000 Australians about how menstruation intersects with poverty, stigma, education, productivity, and pain.

Share The Dignity and analytics group WhyHive revealed 40 percent of respondents have used sick leave due to period-related symptoms or access to sanitary products, and found that “menstruation-related absenteeism is a persistent setback” from the time a person gets their first period right through adulthood.

It correlates with an earlier study by Western Sydney University that found 80 percent of people experienced period pain that had impacted their ability to work, according to the ABC.

Requesting time off to manage a period can come with awkwardness — having to dance around the sustained taboo of periods themselves, as well as having to explain monthly why people need to call in sick.

Gemma, 26, told Junkee that she experiences cramps so bad that it makes her physically sick, and painkillers don’t always work, impacting her customer-facing retail job. When she’s had to take sick leave because of her period, she’s been upfront with the reason around her cis female managers, but said that male counterparts don’t always understand.

“They can be weird about it, but don’t ask too many questions,” she said. “Feels almost like a forbidden topic.”

Olivia, 25, is in a similar boat, struggling with debilitating period pain and PMS flare-ups, which spikes her depression and anxiety levels as well.

She told Junkee that she’s occasionally cited mental health for having to take period-related sick leave, but usually swings a vaguer ‘stomach bug’ for her time off.

Dedicated period leave has become the hot topic in inclusive workplaces, as an alternative to eating into accrued sick, personal, or unpaid leave. However, it has also sparked debate around equality and need accommodation, versus the potential to “exacerbate gender discrimination” or “reinforce harmful stereotypes” that people who menstruate are less capable, the University of Sydney’s Professor Marian Baird wrote in June.

Despite the polarity, many agree that the pandemic has shed light on the necessity of meeting staff needs, and may pave the way for new solutions in the future.

“While everything about the pandemic sucks, I will say that working from home has made it easier to manage the pain and not drain my sick leave,” age Zaina said to Junkee.

The 26-year-old believes in being open about your period, but still grapples with a niggle of doubt that she’d be perceived as weak or dramatic for not working during her time of the month. Even when she’s not incapacitated by her period, she said its super draining “pretending to be 100 percent when truly feeling unwell” in the office.

Zaina attributes Australia’s hush culture around periods to uterine-related complications not being taken seriously or dismissed, and fear by some of being labelled ‘radical’ for being more open about menstruation in the workplace.

Normalising period talk, validating experiences of pain, separating ‘strength’ from ‘endurance’, and unlearning internalised uncomfortableness from both people who menstruate and those without uteruses, is vital to finally changing the conversation.