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One 2017 survey of 32,748 women in the Netherlands found that 14% of respondents had taken time off work or school during their periods. Jay Yuno/Getty Images
One 2017 survey of 32,748 women in the Netherlands found that 14% of respondents had taken time off work or school during their periods. Jay Yuno/Getty Images
  • A Polish gaming company recently granted its employees time off during their periods. 
  • It's a rare policy that's becoming more common as the potential toll of period symptoms gains attention. 
  • Some people argue that such policies make women who take them a target for workplace inequity.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za

A company is offering a rare type of leave for its employees that's been debated all over the world.

GOG, a gaming company based in Poland, announced this month that it will be granting employees time off during their periods. While some say this type of policy is a welcome relief, others are worried about how they'll be viewed by their employers and peers if they take it.

Gabriela Siemienkowicz, GOG's culture and communication manager, told Axios that the policy is "experimental in a sense that we plan to evaluate in what way those additional days off impact the well-being of our menstruating employees at the end of 2022, and consider expanding the policy in the upcoming year."

For now, GOG employees can take off time as needed "whenever period pains occur," according to Siemienkowicz. The company estimates that will amount to a day off per quarter. 

Menstrual leave isn't novel, but it has been scarce in recent history. Researcher Melanie Ilic in a 1994 article in the journal Europe-Asia Studies credits the idea of menstrual leave to Soviet Russia in the 1920s and 30s, when menstruating women were released from work to ensure their reproductive health and boost employment. The policy was also popular with Japanese labour unions during the same period, and became national law in 1947. 

But people who menstruate in Japan rarely use such policies, even with seven decades of access. That sentiment might occur in other countries as companies begin to adopt the policies. After all, many American workers are already unwilling to take sick leave, even when they do have it. And despite sick and menstrual leave policies, countries like the United States and Japan have some of the widest gender pay gaps in the world, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Globally, women who would benefit from additional leave policies might not want to take them, already at a disadvantage when it comes to workplace equity.

"Women were fearful… They had fought to be equal to men, not be seen as weak, and didn't want this drawing attention to a weakness within them and creating a stigma so that they couldn't get promotions," Bex Baxter, former director of UK social enterprise Coexist, told Time last year. 

A tug of war between sick leave and gendered workplace expectations 

The Italian parliament struck down a proposal in 2016 to offer up to three days of paid menstrual leave per month to employees, a relief to some who were concerned it would make Italian companies more reluctant to employ women.

But some companies like GOG are trying to eliminate the stigma that accompanies taking menstrual leave. 

Siemienkowicz told Axios that by implementing such a policy at GOG, the company was acknowledging that employees had been suffering through something privately. For many, period pains are as painful as heart attacks. 

"It fosters inclusiveness by accepting that there are biological differences in the workplace," she said, saying that it helps to break down taboos around periods. "By giving such additional days off, we acknowledge these symptoms are real."

One 2017 survey of 32,748 women in the Netherlands found that 14% of respondents had taken time off work or school during their periods. Others said that they had shown up to work but had difficulty working while experiencing symptoms. The researchers estimated that each woman lost nearly nine days of productivity per year. 

Although menstrual leave policies have been met with backlash and derision in countries such as the United Kingdom and Indonesia, companies like GOG and the food delivery company Zomato in India hope that their ones will change how people think about periods. 

"There shouldn't be any shame or stigma attached to applying for a period leave," Zomato CEO Deepinder Goyal told his staff in a 2020 email. "You should feel free to tell people on internal groups, or emails that you are on your period leave for the day."

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