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Your rights at work when you have painful or heavy periods

If you have bad periods, or a gynaecological condition affecting your ability to work, find out about your rights at work.

A women wearing a hard hat looking at a clipboard.

Several laws are already in place in the UK to help protect you at work but what are they? And how can you help your employer to support you?​​

The situation with sick pay

Check your employment contract and your employer’s sick pay policy to see what sick pay you are entitled to and check the ACAS guidance. Your workplace might offer a certain number of paid sick days every year, but this isn’t a legal requirement and policies vary between employers.

If your periods make you ‘unfit for work’ you may be able to claim statutory sick pay (SSP), if you are eligible.

One big issue is many women don’t like taking sick days, or booking time off as leave, if they suffer from severe period pain or heavy bleeding. You may not want to discuss these symptoms with your manager or worry that taking time off every month could damage your career.

Sadly, many of us feel we have to push through our periods, hoping we have enough painkillers, period products and energy to make it to the end of the working day.

What is the Equality Act 2010?

Under the Equality Act, a disability is “a physical or mental condition which has a substantial and long-term impact on your ability to do normal day-to-day activities”. This doesn’t only cover conditions like a visual impairment or cerebral palsy, but autism, arthritis and chronic migraines too. So, do your periods count?

If we look at the term “substantial”, this means it has more than a trivial impact i.e. it takes you longer to get dressed, follow instructions or walk to work. The phrase “long-term” means something that’s lasted for at least 12 months, even if the effects come and go; you don’t need to be laid low by your periods every day.

If your period symptoms mean you meet these criteria, then you may qualify as disabled under the Equality Act.

Period pain is not specifically covered under the Equality Act 2010, and has not yet been tested in case law, but any cases would likely to be tested on severity and frequency for the purposes of disability.

Making reasonable adjustments

If you are disabled by your periods, your employer has a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments to help you do your job. This could be allowing you to work from home on days when your pain is worse, moving your desk nearer to the toilets or being more flexible around medical appointments.

You don’t have to be registered as disabled for your employer to make these adjustments. If you do want to apply for disability benefits, you’ll need to be independently assessed by the Department for Work and Pensions. ​​Citizens Advice has information about what benefits you may be able to claim.

You don’t need an ​​endometriosis diagnosis or other gynaecological condition in order to claim reasonable adjustments, although you may need to provide a statement or medical report from your GP showing how your life is impacted by your periods.

To start getting reasonable adjustments made for you at work, talk to your HR department – or your manager if you don’t have one – about what could help you do your job. Before you ask for reasonable adjustments, you may want to consider joining a trade union if you’re not already a member. They can provide legal advice and support if you do have any problems with your employer, some also have model policies you can ask your employer to implement.

What if my manager says no?

Having a disability means you’re protected by the Equality Act, so your employer has a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments. They might ask for you to be assessed by an occupational health specialist, but you don’t have to agree. However, this assessment is also to work out what adjustments are right for you.

If your employer refuses to make any reasonable adjustments, or won’t pay for them, you can take legal action against them for disability discrimination. Being sacked for taking too many days off sick because of your periods may also amount to disability discrimination.

The Equality Act protects you against age and sex discrimination too. Although periods and menopause aren’t specifically covered, if you’re treated differently or unfairly because of them, this could be considered discrimination on the basis of age or sex. Talk to HR or get specialist help if you think this has happened to you.

I don’t want to ‘make trouble’

Taking legal action may not feel right for you – many women are reluctant because of the fear of being labelled ‘difficult’.

But your situation at work could be resolved with an informal complaint rather than raising a formal grievance. Talk to HR (if you have one), a trusted colleague or a trade union representative about the best way to discuss periods with your employer.

Making your organisation more aware of how periods affect their staff benefits them too. There’s evidence that employers with positive menstrual policies have a happier, more trusting workforce, lower staff turnover and increased productivity.

Just imagine working somewhere without having to lie about the agony you’re in or the fear of flooding through your clothes.

Our “Just a Period” hub is here to help educate and empower women, girls and people who have periods. Get more information and support here.

If you have any symptoms or concerns, always speak to your doctor. 

*This advice is correct as of August 2023. If you need more tailored information, please talk to your HR team or a legal professional.

For more legal advice, you can visit Rights of Women.