From menstrual leave to 'pet illness leave': Businesses are adopting new leave benefits and we have questions.

Imagine if the next time your period strikes, you could tell your boss “I’m not in today, I’ll be using one of my menstrual leave days”.

Sounds like a dream, right?

Well, paid menstrual leave is one of several new progressive policies that were announced last week by independent publisher and media company, Hardie Grant. Other new leave benefits provided by the company include menopause leave, fertility treatment leave, and gender transition leave.

Referring to the benefits scheme, Hardie Grant's director and co-founder, Fiona Hardie said that the changes were "underpinned by inclusivity" and the desire to meet the needs of a "diverse workforce."

Mamamia Confessions: Our most awkward period stories. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

Also included in the changes is an expansion of the categories for whom employees can take carers leave to support. This would now include not just close family, but extended family, friends and even pets. The company has also expanded the definition of “family/household” to include kinship groups, according to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kinship rules.


This is not the first time Hardie Grant has garnered attention for its progressive policies. In January of 2020, the company introduced a substantial overhaul to its existing parental leave policy, including extending leave to both primary and secondary carers, and fully paid leave in the case of miscarriage and stillbirth past 20 weeks.

On their face, Hardie Grant’s progressive policies leave most private sector company’s benefits in the dust. 

But while these new changes sound like a giant leap in the right direction, will they actually benefit employees – or is this all just a bit of lip service? 

Michelle Redfern, a globally recognised gender equality, diversity and inclusion strategist spoke to Mamamia to explain how these policies tend to play out in the corporate world.

“The policy is just the start. It’s a little like a strategy. I’ve seen some beautiful strategy documents, but they’ve failed in the implementation stage,” she says. 

“You can have fabulous workplace polices but unless they’re implemented absolutely flawlessly and relentlessly, they are, quite frankly just a group of documents that look lovely but make no meaningful change.”

Redfern has seen this play out before. She led a large team for a company with a progressive domestic violence leave policy but found that most of the leaders within that company didn’t even know the policy existed. 

“We had a great policy, and it was ground-breaking at the time. But no one knew how to implement it.”


Hardie said that she is aware of the challenges that implementing these kinds of polices can bring, but says the company is committed to ensuring their staff are equipped and understand what is available to them, whilst acknowledging that, “it’s a constant process of education”.

She explained that one way the company tackles this is by a management and employee benefits platform, which provides support and information for businesses, managers and staff, in managing different challenging circumstances.

“Even if people choose to keep their circumstances private, we have to be aware enough to support them,” Hardie told me. But Hardie assures me that, by the same token, the "utmost care is taken to maintain privacy within the organisation. For example, when employees submit their menstrual leave application, their direct manager and HR will know what it is for, but on any other reporting, it will just say ‘special leave,'" she explains. Hardie hopes this will make it easier for her staff to access.

Listen to the hosts of Mamamia Out Loud discuss the new leave policies. Article continues below. 

Redfern points out that another fundamental problem that arises with some companies' seemingly progressive leave policies is that those policies are actually drawing from their existing personal and sick leave, rather than offering a new leave pool to draw from.

But Hardie says this is not the case at Hardie Grant. The newly announced leave categories each come with their own separate leave pool, for example in the case of menstrual/ menopause leave, an additional 12 days of paid leave are available per annum.


“Fertility leave is one I feel really positive about,” Hardie says. “We’re 81 per cent women in our business and there are always a lot of staff who are having babies and trying to get pregnant. I think that IVF is something people tend to keep pretty private, but it has a lot of repercussions for emotional and physical wellbeing.”

Hardie admits that she was initially daunted by how much extra leave the company could be paying. But she doesn’t think it is a hard thing for business leaders to offer. 

“It’s also an acknowledgment of how difficult these experiences are for women,” she says, of things like menopause and fertility treatment. “For that to be acknowledged, is really important.”

Hardie hopes that validating those experiences and acknowledging they are “a real thing” will encourage staff to take up the offer of paid leave.

Redfern, whose work revolves around advising female business leaders, also had some advice for how they can create an environment where leave is both respected and taken: “Leave loudly!” she urges. “Work flexibly and make it visible. Let colleagues know why you’re leaving, for example, ‘I’m off to pick my kids up from day-care’". 

Writing for The Conversation Sally King who is a PhD Candidate and Global Health & Social Medicine expert questioned whether menstrual leave is good for women.

"As someone with a background in policy evaluation and the founder of the world’s first evidence-based menstrual health website, I am well placed to comment on this topic. When I evaluated existing menstrual leave policies around the world, I found that they were not progressive or beneficial for female reproductive health or gender equality," she writes.

Speaking about the global adoptation of menstrual leave she writes "the policy does not make it easier to manage your period at work because your employer doesn’t have to change a thing. Instead, you are encouraged to stay away from the workplace.

"Menstrual leave also does not help to reduce menstrual shame, stigma or discrimination. It actually encourages the removal of menstruation – and by extension women – from the public realm by hiding it at home.


"This sex-based policy conflates healthy periods with debilitating menstrual health conditions, which both pathologises the normal female body and undermines health conditions that mainly affect women. This is partly why women and conditions that mainly affect women are more likely to be dismissed by doctors, sometimes taking years to get a formal diagnosis."

Time will tell how much of an impact these business policies have when implemented, whether the leave is taken and how the business manages to cover the absent workforce.

Image: Warner Bros. 

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