• Prarthana Lumba

Code Red! Menstruating Employees, Policies, and Etiquettes

Updated: Sep 8

The article aims at dismantling notions of purity, shame and concealment attached to the concept of Menstruation by weaving it around several pre-existing policies for Menstrual Health. It throws light on the need for Menstruation to be seen as a public and occupational health concern. By doing so, the text focuses on the self-policing and objectification women put themselves through, unwittingly, to maintain a menstrual etiquette in the workspace.

Period-Friendly Workplace; Myth or Reality for Some?

Picture this. It's a typical workday; you're going about carrying your usual tasks. Overburdened with work, stressed about the upcoming meeting, and to top it all off, you're on your period. To deal with the pain and reduce one aspect of your tension, you resort to using a hot-water bag. Seeing this, a male co-worker of yours is puzzled, intrigued, even.

Upon knowing you’re using it to subside your menstrual cramps, he’s aghast. Soon after, you’re hauled to HR Department, reprimanded for making a colleague 'uncomfortable' by bringing your 'lady problem’ into the workspace (Hills, 2017). The thought of the above leaves you furious, right? It did for me, too, more so when I realized it was not a mere story but rather an actual incident that took place.

In the summer of 2017, a female employee of a UK firm was held up by her office staff for 'revealing' her Menstruation; because they believed, in doing so, she created an atmosphere of disgust in the office-space! (Mumsnet, 2017)

Anecdotes such as these make us wonder and ponder over the dire need to have period-friendly workspaces; built on humanistic values for the well-being of menstruating employees, aimed at encouraging support rather than suppressing Menstruation (Owen, 2018).

Menstrual Labour(s)

Menstruating Employees carry out several forms of labour while at work. Apart from the usual office workload, while menstruating, employees bear a great deal of Emotional Labour, Physical Labour, and Mental Labour. They are required to hide their suffering or pain and expected to keep their menses a secret. The shame and embarrassment make it more challenging for a menstruating individual to work comfortably at the workplace.

The physical symptoms associated with Menstruation are not only limited to painful menstrual cramps, bloating, headaches, and nausea. A menstruator with menstrual, premenstrual and reproductive disorders like Abnormal Uterine Bleeding (AUB), Intermenstrual Bleeding Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), Endometriosis, and Uterine Fibroids can suffer from a wide variety of symptoms.

The theory of 'Blood Work' by Sang et al (2021) explains the trials and tribulations of menstruating employees. Blood work talks about menstrual aspects at the workplace, which involves ‘managing the leaky, messy, painful body; managing access to facilities; managing stigma, and managing workload.' Having to put up a constant façade at all times, employees face a dissonance with their true emotions and physical needs.

Required to keep up with gender-based expectations and cultural norms, Menstruation in employees is seen as the antithesis of the feminine, sexualized, desired body (Berg & Coutts, 1994; Sang et al, 2021). Adhering to the cultural code of Menstruation (Acker, 2020), employees tend to follow the male body norm in the workplace, where menstruating folk are seen as aberrations carrying out the variou