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Laura’s story: “I repeatedly asked my employer to change their absence policy”

Laura spent years suffering from heavy and painful periods, which affected her life. Then she was forced to leave a job she loved because of her menstrual health. Now, Laura is speaking out, because she believes workplaces should be more open and respectful of women’s health.

Photo of a woman in black and white in front of many words describing periods such as painful, flooding

Here, Laura shares her story as part of our “Just a Period” campaign.

I was diagnosed with endometriosis and fibroids in 2014. Until then, I thought having a heavy, painful period was just normal. As it turns out, everything I was suffering with was not normal and was part of a chronic condition I was not familiar with. I'm from Afro-Caribbean heritage, both of my parents are Jamaican, and periods were not something we discussed. After I was diagnosed, I learned my mum and sister have both suffered with the same conditions. I had never ever heard of endometriosis or fibroids, until I was diagnosed.

When I first started having periods at a young age, they were heavy and traumatic. I had no idea how to deal with them.

I would suddenly bleed through clothing, I was vomiting, I had severe stomach and back pain. I was miserable. My mum took me to see my GP and I was given stronger pain relief and tranexamic acid to reduce the bleeding. When this didn't work, I was put on a combined hormonal contraceptive. This reduced my pain, bleeding and nausea significantly and allowed me to live an almost normal life.

I had never ever heard of endometriosis or fibroids, until I was diagnosed.”

Fast forward to the year 2012. I was 31 years old; I was married and thinking about expanding my family.

The link between infertility and gynaecology issues was not something I had considered at this point. I started to have extremely heavy periods, bladder pain, and migraines. After seeing my GP several times,  I eventually went to see a gynaecologist at a private hospital and had a transvaginal ultrasound. This revealed that I had three small fibroids. It was also suspected that I had endometriosis, which was confirmed by my first laparoscopy.

To date, I've had ten surgeries including an open myomectomy to remove three fibroids. My left fallopian tube has also been removed, and I've had four failed rounds of IVF. I'm 43 years old now. My husband and I are currently waiting for an egg donor so that we can start our fifth and final IVF round. It's been a very tough journey and a very hard decision to make.

My menstrual health has also affected me at work. In the office, I had to wear two pairs of pants, incontinence pads and at least three sanitary towels at a time. I was constantly rushing to the toilet, as I feared leaking.

Severe pain, and occasionally migraines, would start several days before the bleeding, and pain relief could leave me feeling drowsy.

I remember one day, counting down the hours until I could go home, when I was experiencing excruciating pains in my uterus. Time seemed to drag on and I felt like I could not ask to leave early. I was afraid to be off sick.

I was eventually allowed reasonable adjustments to work from home during my period, but sometimes I would be too poorly to work, I even tried to work from my bed for comfort.

I remember one day, counting down the hours until I could go home, when I was experiencing excruciating pains in my uterus."

Then one day, I received a long email from management advising me that they had made several allowances and that I needed to come back to the office in line with my contract. So, I forced myself to go in. I repeatedly asked my employer to change their absence policy, since my absences were related to menstrual health, but they refused. It felt as if they did not believe I was ill, even though my GP wrote a supporting letter confirming my symptoms.

Instead of getting on with work, like I wanted to, I was constantly pulled into disciplinary meetings with my union rep. During my first disciplinary meeting with management and HR, I was told that my sickness absences had caused the failure of a project.  I was upset and frustrated that I had been made a single point of failure. I had been in my role as a Business Analyst for seven years and felt like my integrity was being questioned.

It got to a point where I felt suicidal. I didn't know how to make my employer believe I had gynaecological conditions”

It got to a point where I felt suicidal. I didn't know how to make my employer believe I had gynaecological conditions. I felt like I was being pushed out. Thankfully, I had a supportive husband and he persuaded me that this couldn’t go on. I asked my HR department for a meeting because I felt harassed and they refused. I was told that if I wanted to leave, I should leave. So, I resigned from the role.

After leaving my job, I was at a low point since my confidence had been badly knocked. It has taken a while for me to feel better emotionally and mentally.  I’m still terrified of getting a new job before my health improves, in case I end up having the same horrible experience as with my last employer. I have signed up for talking therapy through the NHS to help build up my confidence again, and I’m hoping to see a careers coach at some point. I’ve never felt bad about leaving though, as you can’t put a price on your mental health.

I wish my employer had recognised that their absence policy was discriminating against those with chronic health conditions, and that it was having a knock-on effect on my mental health too. They didn’t believe that the Equality Act should apply to my illnesses.

I believe workplaces should be more open and respectful of women's health problems. This should be reflected in their sickness policies. 

Laura also shared her story as part of our Women's Health at Work webinar.

If you can relate to Laura's story, you could have a medical condition that needs treatment. Always see your doctor if you have any concerns.

Find more information and advice in our periods information hub.

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

If you need to access a support service, please visit our helplines and support services page.

Transforming Women's Health in the Workplace-image

Our Employer Membership Programme gives large and small organisations the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to support women’s health in the workplace place.

Our programme will help you develop policies and effective measures on women’s health issues across the life course, from periods, fertility, and pregnancy, to gynaecological cancers and the menopause.