• Woman reprimanded by HR for mentioning her period at work

  • 14 Jul 2017
  • Comments 2 comments

Ninety-five per cent of PM readers would have handled the situation differently

HR professionals have voiced their outrage on Twitter after a Mumsnet user described being reprimanded by her HR director for mentioning her period at work.

The woman, who said she was “furious” at being called out for “menstruating at work”, described how she had been using a hot water bottle to ease menstrual cramps at her desk, when her supervisor asked what she was doing. Upon explaining the hot water bottle was for pain relief, she said her supervisor, who she referred to as ‘Guy’, looked “confused, then literally horrified”.

Shortly afterwards, the woman was taken aside by the organisation’s HR director, who told her she was being “unprofessional” and she “shouldn’t disclose [her] medical problems to anyone who isn’t part of HR as it can make them uncomfortable”. According to the woman, the HR director added: “If you’re so unwell you need a hot water bottle, you should be at home. Guy is extremely uncomfortable and it’s unprofessional.”

The Mumsnet user said she was “flabbergasted” by her HR director’s response, “especially considering that ‘Guy’ has been known to take meetings with clients while lying flat on the floor because of back problems – which seems to me both unprofessional and likely to make people uncomfortable”, she wrote. “I wouldn’t have had my hot water bottle in a client meeting, or even if clients were in the office.”

The post has been making the rounds on Twitter, with many people taking to social media to slate both ‘Guy’ for reporting his colleague and HR for managing the situation badly.

In an ongoing poll of People Management Twitter followers, 95 per cent said the HR director should not have reprimanded the employee for her behaviour. Just 3 per cent thought the response was appropriate.   

The management of menstruation at work has been in the spotlight lately, with the Italian parliament reported to be considering a proposal to legally allow female employees to take three days of paid menstrual leave each month. Last year, a Bristol-based community interest company became one of the first UK organisations to launch a formal period leave policy for their female employees, in the hope it would make them more productive and improve wellbeing. Menstrual leave has been a legal right for Japanese women since 1947.

But experts remain divided on the subject, with some employment lawyers suggesting it could lead to greater workplace inequality, because companies could be encouraged to hire more men if women are entitled to extra paid leave.

“There are potential benefits to enhanced menstrual leave entitlements, such as creating expectations that women are able to take leave for menstrual pains. This may help tackle the stigma around talking about such matters and people not understanding them that easily,” said Joanna Powis, employment lawyer at Reed Smith.

“On the other hand, there could be a negative impact because this would be another type of leave that women can take, but men can’t. In the last couple of years the law has been making efforts to create greater equality between men and women in terms of the leave they can take (for example, shared parental leave), so the danger is that existing problems around workplace inequality could be exacerbated.”

Related articles

Holistic approach to menstruation leave could have big benefits for employers

As Italy considers giving female workers the right to menstrual leave, forward-thinking UK businesses might want to think about doing the same

Only a quarter of women who experience period pain at work would tell their boss

Menstrual leave would raise awareness about ‘taboo’ subject and create a more productive workforce, say experts

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Comments (2)
  • I'm unsure if it's just me thinking this but,,

    Many women do not have a cycle due to medical conditions. Could this be indirect discrimination if you are providing it to everyone with a cycle or would you still remain eligible if you are a woman without a cycle?

  • I have a confession to make... I'm female and I never understood why 'some' women made such a fuss about periods.  I mean, messy, inconvenient and annoying but seriously - get a grip.  

    That was until I started peri-menopause.  All the horror stories; embarrassing flooding and leaks, literally doubled over in pain, so I couldn't stand up, pain.  Just constant pain.  Energy levels through the floor.  HOT flushes, where my ears would literally feel like they were on fire.  For 30 odd years my menstrual cycle was a non-event.  For two years it almost destroyed my life, I was taking the contraceptive pill to try and control it (that didn't work), pills to reduce the blood loss, pills to reduce the swelling and inflammation, pills to stop the pain.  I had to wear elasticated trousers because my abdomen was so sore.    It took two years to find a regime that although didn't 'cure' the problem has meant I can live life normally - but I still get days where my energy levels crash to a point where my limbs feel like lead, and I end up falling asleep at my keyboard - literally passing out from a lack of energy.

     Until you live with the 'condition' you can't possibly understand how devastating the impact of hormone imbalances can have on your physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.  Walk in my shoes applies, definitely.  Transparency and honesty about 'woman problems' is essential.  Recognising that for some women 'time of the month' means 'I need time off' is being realistic about the impact that hormones can have on well being.  This goes in the same pile as mental well-being.  Sooner we can have conversations about it, the sooner we can move forward with proactive and understanding workplaces.