A millennial whose employer gives paid period leave said it's improved her work life knowing she could take time off when the pain becomes unbearable
- Paid menstrual leave is much more common in Asia than the US or Europe.
- Some argue menstrual leave creates a pretense to discriminate against women.
Paulina Rutkowska, 31, says she can remember a time when getting her period meant a tough day at work.
When she worked as a photographer in college, for instance, and had less workplace flexibility, she'd have to power through her symptoms.
"Sometimes I was barely conscious doing it," she told Insider about that job, which required being on her feet a lot.
About a decade later, a lot has changed for Rutkowska. She works as a product owner for GOG, a digital platform for video games and movies based in Warsaw, Poland, where Rutkowska lives. She's a leader at the company in an engineering role, managing a team that oversees developer tools.
Another change is that she mostly works from home. Like a lot of remote workers, she often rallies and works while sick. When Rutkowska is on her period, for instance, and experiencing pain, it's easier to complete her tasks while at home than it would be at an office. She often has meetings she doesn't want to reschedule, she said.
But things have changed over the last year.
GOG announced last April that it would be granting employees time off during their periods, a rare type of leave that's been debated all over the world. Gabriela Siemienkowicz, GOG's culture and communication manager, said in a statement to Insider last year that employees could take one day off per quarter, but the company now says it's expanding that number going forward.
Menstrual leave policies cropped up over the last century in Asia and Europe. While some say it's a welcome relief for those experiencing pain, others argue that it makes women a target for workplace discrimination. Last month, Spain became the first European country to institute menstrual leave.
The Italian parliament struck down a proposal in 2016 to offer up to three days of paid menstrual leave per month to employees. The decision came as a relief to those who were concerned it would make Italian companies more reluctant to employ women.
Rutkowska's experience has been gratifying, however. GOG told Insider that the response has been "overwhelmingly positive" at the company, that the policy has been sparingly used by its employees who menstruate, and that it's broken a taboo about menstruation in the workplace. Rutkowska said that she's only taken one day of menstrual leave in the year since the policy has been implemented, but the knowledge that it was available for her to use if she needed it has made working while on her period less of a burden.
"I don't know if it's the placebo effect of knowing I could take time off if I needed to, or that I could just finish the day early, but it made it easier," she said.
That's common across GOG. According to the company, out of all the days off available for menstruating employees, just 16% of them were used throughout the year.
"Menstrual leave fosters inclusiveness by accepting that there are biological differences in the workplace," the company said in a statement. "By giving additional days off for those experiencing menstrual period pain, we acknowledge these symptoms are real."
It also acknowledges that period pain can be debilitating for some people. One reproductive health professor told Quartz in 2018 that patients have described cramp pain as "almost as bad as having a heart attack."
"Maybe it is something you should talk about"
The one time Rutkowska did use the leave, she said it followed a "sleepless night" where she was wracked with pain for hours before the workday started. She ended up logging into work later anyway, but said that not having to go through the "hassle" of calling in sick the traditional way or using up her PTO made her feel a lot better about doing it.
Rutkowska also praised the relative ease and discretion of requesting menstrual leave, especially in comparison to other forms of leave. She said she simply logs onto her online time sheet, fills out "menstrual leave" as the reason, and gets approved quickly. In comparison, a formal sick day requires a doctor's note, which adds a number of steps to the process of taking time off.
"With menstrual leave, you don't have to go through all those hoops," she said. "It can't be debated, your boss wouldn't say 'no,' it's just there, and I have a day off."
The lack of bureaucracy involved makes it feel less like there's a spotlight on the process, Rutkowska described.
"When it's a very standardized process it doesn't feel awkward anymore," she added.
And she said that the conversations about menstrual leave at GOG have opened a door to being more candid about routine health concerns at the company more broadly among all genders.
Through GOG, for instance, employees can get screened for breast or testicular cancer.
"It's not something you talk about with your friends at work," she said. "'Hello, I'm getting a breast exam.' But if it's something you can make use of, maybe it is something you should talk about."
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