Saturday, 5 March 2016

Why I Disagree With "Period Leave"

So I was happily laid down in bed ready to drift off to sleep when all of these thoughts surrounding the newly announced "period leave" came swirling around my head for the third time today. You may say I'm in no position to comment on periods or their impact on daily life seems as I'm 35 weeks pregnant and as such haven't had a period in nearly 9 months, however quite obviously my menstrual cycle was in full swing before conceiving and had been for over 11 years so I've got some experience on the matter!

I'd be lying if I said I hadn't had the cheeky day off of school or sixth form because of cramps or just generally feeling like crap around that time of the month, but I can hand on heart declare that I've never taken the day off of work for it. I've been quite lucky that only the first day is really a problem and after that first early night snuggled up in bed I'm usually okay for the rest of the week and I'm well aware that there are many women out there in very different situations to mine. In which case, I would advise seeking medical advice from a Doctor to see if there is any intervention that can be offered to ease the symptoms. What I can't get my head around, however, is if for instance you are diagnosed with menstrual symptoms so bad that they stop you from working, how that is any different to another illness making you sign off sick and why you should get treated (and more crucially, paid) any different.

These leads me onto my first point, I have a heart condition that can mean even a nasty cold can knock me for six and I can genuinely struggle to function. However when I took a day off sick for this reason, the fact that it was a recurring medical condition made no difference to the fact I'd called in sick and I got paid sick pay accordingly. I know and work with people who have much more frequently recurring medical issues that stop them from coming into work but they aren't granted paid leave for this. Why should an excessively bad period (for whatever reason that may be) be any different? You're basically calling in unfit for work, the reason behind that should be irrelevant in terms of your pay and sickness record.

Secondly, then comes the people (and we all know at least one!) who will abuse the system, an employer is not going to ask you to prove that you're on your period, nor can they prove the severity of your cramps nor the heaviness of your bleeding so does this not leave the scheme wide open for people to take the p*ss? Those who would wake up to find that they're on their period, probably not need the day off of work (I'm talking about someone exaggerating and abusing the leave here, not those with genuine reasons FYI), but call up to cash in their "period leave' anyway? Or, as I stated earlier, as an employer can't actually prove when you're on your period (not everyone has a regular 28 day cycle), ladies who aren't even experiencing their time of the month at all but just fancy a few days off! To me it seems wide open for abuse and not only is that unfair on the rest of a workforce, it actually undermines ladies who really do suffer.

Bringing me nicely onto my third concern which would be the potential for a social stigma within the office. I'm not going to go in with the angle of how it could be deemed unfair for men because, at the end of the day, they don't have periods, although I will touch on them a bit later! No, the stigma I'm talking about is the us v them amongst the females. You're kidding yourselves if you think that there won't be a divide in an office between those ladies who take the period leave and those who don't feel the need to. I know people who would rather sit at their desk with a hot water bottle and whince their way through the day because their workload is too huge to leave for a few days a month and because they don't want to be "that girl" and I also know people who would have the attitude of "well I manage to cope okay so why can't so-and-so?!". Now you & I both know that no two periods are the same, hell I myself have had some that have left me bed bound and glad they've reared their ugly heads on a weekend so that I don't have to miss work and then another month barely notice I've come on. However that doesn't mean that everyone out there is as educated or even polite. I've experienced being compared to many other women during my pregnancy and know that I've been criticised when my back is turned for how much physical activity I've done or how early I've taken my maternity leave, so don't kid yourself for a second that it wouldn't happen with part of a workforce embracing and using the period leave whilst another half carried on as normal throughout all weeks of the month and that it wouldn't cause animosity.

Fourth on my list of concerns is obviously employability. You don't need to tell me that we're in 2016 and it's illegal to not employ someone just because she's a woman, but I don't need to point out to you that it most certainly still happens in some cases. I myself have been for interviews and known when they ask whether or not you have children, they're actually fishing for your reaction to gauge your likelihood of disappearing on maternity leave for a year. I'm in no doubt at all that there are some employers out there who would be really put off employing women if it meant that they had to give them paid time off every month. We're supposed to be closing the gap with regards to attitudes towards gender within the workplace and I think this would be creating a whole new canyon. Would period leave have to go down on your sickness record and you'd therefore kinda have to declare it any future job interviews? Would an excessive list of "period leave" make you less likely to get put up for a promotion vs a male employee or a female who never took a day sick?

Fifth is the time/pay aspect. Would you be expected to work longer on the days when you were able to work? Would your pay be docked for period leave (I've read that it wouldn't)? And if someone was needed to stay late or work a weekend/bank holiday, would you be expected to step up to do that? Where I currently work, they're very good at the more you put in, the more you get out. You can take the odd long lunch here and there if you've proven to put the time in beforehand although we're talking an hour here and there, not a whole day or two. If I were to take one day off, I'd have to work 2 hours extra per day for the rest of that week to make up my time. Again I think there'd be a divide amongst the ladies who did take the period leave between those who made their time up out of principle and those who took it literally and didn't feel the need.

My sixth concern is actually that it would pull us further apart as women rather than push us together. Would it not basically highlight those ladies who didn't have periods at all for whatever reason? Be it a medical reason or because they're hitting the menopause, or any other reason, would it not single those ladies out? I know that I myself would feel really conscious if for any reason my periods were to stop and it become obvious because I suddenly cease to take period leave. It was hard enough for me to keep my pregnancy from work for the 8 or so weeks that I did and I would hate to have felt pressured into telling my boss earlier because they'd noticed a change in my monthly routine. The rumours of "she normally always takes her period leave and she hasn't for the last two months, I bet she's pregnant" would whirl around any office in the country faster than you could stop them which could cause upset for so many reasons. Many ladies also are embarrassed to start the menopause (not that I think they should be embarrassed, but it's a fact that many are) and may feel awkward that it was obviously starting to happen to them when they no longer needed period leave.

I can't believe I've actually got seven whole reasons against it, but here is my seventh... much the same as the troopers who never even bat an eyelid at their time of the month, what about the ladies who have been there, done that and are now beyond having periods? Again as a pregnant lady I've experienced a lot of "we managed fine in my day" and I think it'd be exactly the same with period leave. They coped fine without it and so should the next generation, why should we be treated any differently to how they were and get it easy?!

Now I am not for one second saying that I agree with any of the above happening, many of them are down right wrong and shouldn't even cross people's minds. In an ideal world everyone would take it as the helping hand that it was intended to be and only those really in need would reap the benefit. However in a really ideal world, no lady would experience periods so bad that she felt the need to be off work and periods would be exactly how they advertise them on the tampax advert. I just happen to live in the real world, call me tainted from years previously spent in the motor trade surrounded by men telling me I'd be fired if I were to get pregnant (as I said before, we all know it's unethical but it doesn't stop it from happening), but I call myself a realist and can't shake these worries out of my head. Feel free to open fire on me as to why I'm "ignorant" and "anti-feminist" and if you can genuinely prove to me that none of the above things will happen then I am all ears. But just because something shouldn't happen or is technically illegal or discriminatory, doesn't mean that it won't happen either consciously or sub-conciously.

I probably should hit the delete button on this post now, but I've spent over an hour writing it so here goes...

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