While Indian labour laws include provisions for sick and casual leaves, there is no specific legislation addressing menstrual leave in the country. Accordingly, organisations have the flexibility to create their policies regarding menstrual leave. Zomato was at the forefront, introducing a 10-day ‘period leave’ to foster a more inclusive organizational culture. Likewise, Swiggy, another online food delivery platform, implemented a ‘time off’ policy for its female delivery partners. Similarly, various companies across the industry, such as Byjus, Culture Machine, FlyMyBiz, and Gozoop, have proactively formulated policies addressing menstrual leave.
India and the World on Menstrual Leave:
Menstrual leave policies have not been widely adopted across India, with only Bihar and Kerala being the two states to have implemented such policies for women. Bihar initiated its policy in 1992, allowing employees two days of paid menstrual leave each month. Kerala has recently announced menstrual and maternity leave provisions for students in universities under the state’s higher education department, and a similar system has been introduced in a Kerala school.
In 2017, a private member’s bill, the Menstruation Benefits Bill, 2017, was presented in the Parliament by a Lok Sabha member Mr. Ninong Ering from Arunachal Pradesh. This was followed by the Women’s Sexual, Reproductive and Menstrual Rights Bill in 2018, which was presented by Dr. Shashi Tharoor Member of Parliament for Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. Both bills aimed to ensure women’s access to menstrual health products and entitlement to menstrual leave but were not passed. Recently, another proposed bill the “Right of Women to Menstrual Leave and Free Access to Menstrual Health Products Bill, 2022,” seeking to provide three days of paid leave for women and transwomen during their periods, extending the benefit to students, was also introduced, however, the same failed to see the light of the day.
Similarly, earlier this year, the Supreme Court of India declined to address a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking menstrual leaves for female students and working women nationwide, stating that the issue fell within the domain of policy and directed the petitioner to make a representation to the Ministry of Women and Child Development, which may take an appropriate decision in this regard.
On 3rd August 2023, the government of Maharashtra issued a notification introducing the Maharashtra Shops and Establishment (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) (Amendment) Bill 2023. According to the proposed amendment, female employees working in shops and establishments in Maharashtra will be eligible for paid menstrual leave. This initiative aims to safeguard the health and well-being of women employees.
Additionally, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India has published the draft National Menstrual Hygiene Policy, 2023, with an objective ‘menstrual friendly environment’ in all settings including homes, schools/ educational institutions, workplaces and public spaces.
During the current winter session of Parliament, Union Minister of Women and Child Development, Smriti Irani, stated that menstruation should not be considered a “handicap” and does not warrant a specific policy for “paid leave.” She expressed that, “As a menstruating woman, menstruation and the menstrual cycle are natural aspects of women’s life journeys. We should not advocate issues where women are denied equal opportunities just because someone who does not menstruate holds a particular viewpoint towards menstruation.” This response came in answer to a query posed by Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) member Manoj Kumar Jha regarding the country’s menstrual hygiene policy. Earlier in the session, in response to a question from Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Irani informed the Lok Sabha that there is “no proposal under consideration by the government to make provisions for mandatory paid menstrual leave in all workplaces.”
Looking at the world at large in comparison to India, Japan has a law dating back to 1947, stipulating that companies must grant women menstrual leave upon request or for as long as necessary. However, the law does not mandate payment for women during menstrual leave. Notably, approximately 30% of Japanese companies, as per a 2020 labour ministry survey, opt to provide either full or partial pay during menstrual leave. In South Korea, women are entitled to one day of unpaid menstrual leave per month. Taiwan allows for three days per year, while Zambia permits women to take a day off during their period without prior notice, informally referred to as “Mother’s Day.” Indonesia allows for two days per menstrual cycle. Spain, among the first European countries, has introduced a bill that provides paid leave for period pain.
Though Culture Machine, Gozoop, and Zomato were pioneers in implementing menstrual leave policies for their female workers/partners in 2017 and 2020, the trend has gained momentum recently. Numerous companies, such as Gencosys and Khaitan & Co, a full-time law firm, have now embraced this practice, announcing paid menstrual leave for their employees/associates. This emerging trend reflects a broader movement across industries, with companies aiming to enhance the well-being of female employees and contribute to breaking the stigma associated with menstruation. Ghazal Alagh, co-founder of the beauty brand Mama Earth and a Shark Tank India judge, has proposed an alternative to paid period leave. Her suggestion comes in response to Union Minister Smriti Irani’s comments in Parliament, wherein she has suggested for the option of work from home for women experiencing menstrual pain rather than instituting paid leave. As organisations adopt a progressive stance on matters related to menstruation, it’s not enough to merely implement policies. Organizations must conduct workshops that raise awareness about menstrual health.
On one hand, there is a need to prioritize the health of the workforce, by being more compassionate and creating an equitable workplace, there’s an opposing perspective advocating for menstrual leave decisions to be left at the discretion of organizations without formal regulations. Concerns are raised that regulations may lead to increased financial costs, potentially resulting in a preference for hiring male employees over female counterparts. Additionally, there’s apprehension that menstrual leave could be exploited as an excuse for discrimination. What is often overlooked is the enduring impact such policies have on the physical and mental well-being of women in the workforce. Therefore, it is suggested that organizations implement flexible leave policies, allowing women the choice to avail leave or not, whether it be paid or unpaid.
– Devaiah KG,
Advocate & Principal Associate