PERIODS LEAVE AT WORKPLACE: A RIGHT OR AN EXCUSE?

    Menstruation is a healthy and natural process of a woman’s reproductive age. It is a process where the uterus sheds blood through the vaginal area of a woman. The procedure lasts for 4-5 days every month of a woman’s life and is often known as ‘Periods.’

    It is a biological process that every woman has in her life for a healthy and potential pregnancy. The menstrual cycle begins where a girl reaches puberty and lasts at the end of her fertility, known as menopause. Most of the women prefer not to talk about the menstrual cycle in society because of embarrassment or due to societal shelves or otherwise. [1]

    Period leave or menstrual leave is the leaves granted to the women in their excess pain when they go through menstruation, which occurs every month till the time of their fertility. Recently, an issue came up regarding the paid menstrual leave policy, a policy granting two days menstrual leave each month to the working women in India. A few months back, Zomato, an online food platform, announced ten days of the annual paid period to its women employees and transgender. It brings a heated debate on the concept of a paid menstrual leave policy to some companies in India. After that, another digital marketing firm in Surat announced 12 days of annual paid menstrual leave for its women employees who want to avail such leave during her menstrual cycle. [2]

    This policy is criticized in India because some say it’s a violation of the right to equality as it will result in more leaves by women than a man. In contrast, others believe the menstrual policy is granted to women by entitlement. The author in the present article analyzes the concept of such menstrual leave policy and whether such leave if granted, is a violation of equality or is a right derived by the Constitution of India itself.

    THE MENSTURATION BENEFIT BILL, 2017

    It is a private member’s bill in Parliament that aims to provide two days’ period leave every month to the women working in public and private sectors. The bill covers the working women, recognizes female students from the government schools, and aims to provide facilities for rest at the workplace during the menstrual cycle. The bill was moved by a Lok Sabha Member of Parliament, Ninong Ering, who represents the Congress from Arunachal Pradesh, asking the government to bring a menstrual leave policy for working women. However, the Ministry of Women and Children Development denied such a bill and cited the initiatives and endeavors taken by the government for adolescent girls.

    Further, Ering mentions that a media company named Culture Company announced one-day menstrual leave to its women employees, and another company, Gozoop, also introduced menstrual leave. Aftermath, an online petition was filed by Culture company appealing to other companies to grant paid menstrual leave to its women employees. The same was opposed by some commentators, stating that we women have been fighting through decades for our active participation at the workplace. They were making such a law that would encompass women’s endeavors for decades. A congress spokesperson pointed out that the need for such a bill was to create an inclusive workplace to help women fit in and not to frame exclusive policies. However, some companies may allow women employees to work from home during her menstrual cycle[3]. For some people, the introduction of such a bill was mere tokenism. Some regarded it as a regressive move, contending that such a paid period leave policy would trigger gender biases in the hiring process and lessen women employees’ hiring in various sectors. [4]

    In my opinion, the issue of menstruation should be normalized. Instead of mocking at females, the male colleagues must be more sensitive about the menstrual leave, especially in a country like India where the Hon’ble Supreme Court judged on the Sabarimala issue, wherein the women were allowed to enter into a temple which was a more significant move towards empowering women. As a society, we should join hands together and support women to take menstrual leave during her days. After many debates, one cannot be sure when the government will recognize this bill, but to ensure equality and maintain health standards, we must have a positive aspect toward such a bill.

    https://legalreadings.com/the-rights-of-daughters-in-property-an-analysis/

    THE CONSTITUTIONAL PERSPECTIVE

    There are several arguments on social media contending whether the paid period leave policy violates the right to equality? Will such a system result in unproductiveness in a working environment? The approach, if granted, will be gender-specific? For decades the women have been fighting for ‘equal pay for equal work.’ Will this amount to infringement of equality status? To address the above issues, the author has conducted doctrinal research and critically analyzed them with India’s constitutional provision.

    The status of equality, i.e., equal rights and equal protection to every citizen residing within India’s territorial limits, has been enshrined under Article 14 of the Constitution of India. The provision empowers the legislature to make laws based on positive discrimination benefitting India’s citizens rather than making any discriminatory laws. [5] The said provision only prohibits those laws which are improper and discriminatory to the other individual group. The principle “equal protection of laws”  means the protection of equal laws for all persons situated within the territorial limits of India” has been reiterated by the Honorable Supreme Court in M.G Badappanar v. State of Karnataka [6], where the term equality is stated as one of the basic features of the Constitution of India. Further, the court discussed the scope of permissible classification, saying that the individual classification can also be made in special circumstances where the individual himself is treated as a class. Moreover, in E.P Royappa v. State of Tamil Nadu[7], the court forbids class legislation. It states that the equality provision involves reasonable classification which cannot be cribbed, cabined, or confined within the traditional and doctrinaire limits. 

    Article 15(1), embedded in India’s Constitution, states no discrimination shall be made on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth, or any of them[8]. On the contrary, Article 15(3) of India’s Constitution empowers the state to make special provisions for women and children for the active participation held in the case Andhra Pradesh vs. P.B Vijay Kumar[9]. The special status has been provided to the state because, in earlier stages, injustice was faced by women compared to men. Hence, the protective discrimination was necessary to maintain social equality where we women have been criticized in so many ways. 

    At this juncture, it is explicitly clear that period leaves in any context do not amount to a violation of equality. As a woman, I would say that granting period leave will not make us unproductive; in fact, it will lead us to work potentially better at the workplace. On the contrary, whether such a paid period leave policy would trigger us from working in the various sectors? On these aspects, I would convey that women have been granted maternity leaves under the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, which had not resulted in any discrimination or unproductiveness at the workplace. Why not period leaves? Hence, after conducting the research, the author suggests that period leave policy shall be given to the women to promote social security and bring a positive workforce in various working sectors.

    PAID PERIOD LEAVES

    Lately, a bold move was taken by one of the food-delivery firms, Zomato, wherein 35% of women employees, including transgender, was granted ten days of annual paid leave during their menstrual cycle. The CEO of Zomato said in the statement to his employees: ‘There should not be any shame to take period leave.’ You all are free to tell people on internal groups or emails that you are on your period leave for the day.’ Well, this is not the first time where the paid period leaves are granted. Since 1992, Bihar is the only state which provides two extra days of leave called ‘casual leave’ to its women employees. Further, John Guillebaud, a professor at UK College, has described that periods of pain may have an equal intensity level as a ‘heart attack.’ Other countries like Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, and Taiwan, are also providing menstrual leave to their employees by their rights. [10]

    Firstly, what needs to be changed is the mindset of society towards menstruation. For all women, menstruation is a blessing and not a curse. In our culture, menstruation is considered impure, and women are taught not to be open about it. Instead, they are uncomfortable or ashamed to have a debate over such matters openly. Well, it’s high time that there must be such a paid period leave policy in India, and for that, one has to be open about menstruation. Every woman has a different intensity of pain during their menses, so it’s a choice for whoever wants to take relief in their menses.

    The commentators are of the view that period leave shall be included in the sick leave. I would say sick leave is quite different from menstrual rest; there must be no debate because women are biologically other from men. But this may raise an argument that such period leave is generalized period leave and is granted because it is biologically specific. In this part, I would comment that biology must not come into the way of equality because that is something we cannot change, that is how the two human bodies work, and men may also have things which we cannot identify. [11]

    CONCLUSION

    The support to period leave at the workplace and accommodate their workplace according to their workers’ needs is an affirmative step taken by some of the companies. Period leave allows women to rest in their painful days of menstruation. Such a paid period policy is imperative for health, hygiene, and the employees’ potential working at the workplace. It is a well-noted fact ‘A period is not an excuse to have an attitude,’ a woman goes through vaginal cramps, abdominal cramps, mood swings, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, bleeding for 3-7 days, fatigue, loss of appetite, sore breasts, nausea, vomiting, breakouts, headaches, lower pain and what not? So, if a woman suffers such things in her menstrual cycle then she shall be given rightful leave to rest in her menstruation.

    I believe menstruation policy is also one of the ways to normalize the issue of menstruation in our culture. It’s high time that every woman must stand up for herself in this 21st century, where periods are considered taboo in society. Every woman must be granted such leave as a matter of their right. This very right cannot bring biases to the workplace. In my context, even if the government recognizes no menstruation bill, we as a society must come together and initiate the grant of such a paid leave policy in India by making an inclusive environment at the workplace.

    REFERENCES

    [1] UNFPA, Menstruation and Human Rights, (May 2020). 

    [2] Smita Singh, “To support ‘period leave’ or not is the question?” The National Herald, Aug. 12, 2020. 

    [3] Archis Mohan, “Menstrual leave: Should women be entitled to paid menstrual leave? Parliament to decide”, Business Standard, Jan. 2, 2018.

    [4] Chandrika Manjunath,The Menstruation Benefit Bill proposes two days menstrual leave. Does this help women?”, Intersectional Feminism-Desi Style, Feb. 1, 2018.

    [5] The Constitution of India, art. 14.

    [6] AIR 2001 SC 260.

    [7] AIR 1974 SC 555.

    [8] The Constitution of India, art. 15(1).

    [9]AIR 1995 SC 1648.

    [10] Geneva Abdul, “Zomato’s paid leave for periods takes on a workplace taboo,” The Economic Times, Aug. 12, 2020.

    [11] Radhika Santhanam, “Should women be entitled to menstrual leave”, The Hindu, Aug. 21, 2020.


     BY SURABHI SHARMA | UPES, DEHRADUN

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