Twenty three year old Anagha (name changed), a software engineer in Bengaluru, has been on medication for endometriosis since 2019. In spite of it, periods are a nerve-wracking time for her as the pain is impossible for her to handle during that time of the month. Since, her company doesn’t have a menstrual leave policy in place, she is often forced to use her sick leaves during that time. This is not just the case with Anagha but is a story of many employees across the country. Recently, there has been a lot of hue and cry over the need for menstrual leave in India after Smriti Irani, the Union Minister for Women and Child Development, opposed a policy for ‘paid period leave’ in Parliament.

While some Indian States like Kerala and Bihar have integrated menstrual leave into their work policies, the broader corporate landscape in the country is still catching up. Companies like Swiggy and Zomato have taken the lead in offering menstrual leave, aligning with global practices in countries such as Spain and Japan.

Importance of period leaves

Experts argue that recognising the diversity of how periods affect individuals is crucial. Deep Bajaj, Co-founder and CEO, Sirona private hygiene Ltd, says its important to create a supportive work environment that allows women flexibility, either through leave or the option to work from home during their periods. Having dedicated rest spaces for on-site work during periods will promote a more accommodating workplace, says Sumit Bhasin of EyeQ Hospitals.

Meanwhile, Akihiro Ueda, CEO of Terra Motors, proposes that menstrual leave durations should be tailored to meet individual needs and pain tolerance, and suggests allowing for at least two days as a starting point. Dr P Madhuri Vidyashankar, a consultant gynaecologist, recommends identifying individuals with specific medical conditions like endometriosis that warrant menstrual leave and creating a personalised approach for them.

As an alternative to traditional leave policies, some companies, like Khaitan & Co, promote a hybrid work culture. Amar Sinhji, Executive Director, Human Resources, Khaitan & Co, says that when employees are well rested and their physical and mental well-being are looked after, it has a positive impact on productivity and growth.

Anjana Ajith, a clinical psychologist, believes that creating a comfortable working space and eliminating the need for travel by working from home can benefit women during their period. Vijayalakshmi Sankar, President of Shree Renga Polymers, acknowledges the work-from-home as an option but wonders the potential challenges it can bring up in terms of productivity.

Supporters of menstrual leave argue that it enhances the overall productivity of the company. Maddie Amrutkar, CEO of Glad U Came, a public relations firm, asserts that valuing employees’ well-being fosters a supportive work culture, boosts morale and reduces absenteeism due to discomfort.

Recognising and supporting health-related needs fosters trust and appreciation, leading to higher employee engagement, says Tripti Naswa of Sattva Knowledge Institute.

Hidden discrimination

On the other side, there are emerging concerns of potential discrimination in hiring if menstrual leave policies are mainstreamed. Naswa says that while studies haven’t conclusively shown negative impacts on hiring, there might be challenges in unorganised sectors due to resource constraints.

Corporate India is taking steps beyond leave policies to support women in period pain. Shree Renga Polymers’ Sankar describes how awareness sessions on menstrual hygiene are being conducted in their company, while Terra Motors equips restrooms with wellness products, including menstrual items.

The debate around menstrual leave policies in India reflects the need for a more inclusive approach to support the diverse health needs of employees.

While the concept is relatively new, it aligns with global trends and aims to foster a inclusive workplace that accommodates the challenges faced by all employees.