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May 19 2014

Paid Menstrual Leave?

Carrie L. Lukas

There is always a challenge in writing about the problems that come with government-mandated benefits: It's so easy to see the benefits that flow from employment mandates—the paid time off, insurance coverage, etc.—but harder to identify all the costs, though they are just as real, and are often weightier than the benefits.

I've recently written about this topic, focusing specifically on the FAMILY Act, a proposed massive expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act. Certainly some women would be better off under the FAMILY Act, as they would enjoy paid leave time that they previously lacked.  But the FAMILY Act would also create many losers: women who would lose their more generous, employer-provided leave packages, and the women who would have lower pay and fewer job opportunities since employers would be more reluctant to offer leadership positions to women who may take two months leave each year.

I would hope that these tradeoffs would come more clearly into focus as the public hears more discussion of yet another potential government leave mandate: paid menstrual leave.

You read that right. In some countries, employers already must allow women to take time off during their periods.

This article in The Atlantic thankfully acknowledges the many problems associated with creating such a leave policy. Such a mandate may contribute to the idea that women are the “weaker sex” and that menstruation is an affliction which impairs judgment. In other countries, women attempting to exercise these leave rights have been subject to humiliating calls by employers to "prove" that they are eligible at that time.

Overlooked in this article, however, are the costs created by such leave policies for employers. The Left often seems to forget this, but employers hire people because they actually need a job done. When people can't show up for work--regardless of the reason--that's a problem for those companies. Employers know this, so surely take into account the likelihood that potential employees won't show up when they are making employment decisions.

If a manager thought that a potential worker would be out two working days out of every 28, she would surely take that into consideration when deciding whether to hire and how much to pay that worker. That means that women—regardless of whether they plan on exercising their menstrual leave rights—would be at a disadvantage. They become less attractive hires compared to men.

Such articles about leave time invariable include a disgusted reference to the U.S.'s lack of a paid sick or maternity leave mandate. Yet overlooked is that fact that overwhelming most full-time employees have access to such benefits. That's because most employers see women as valuable employees. They offer these benefits so that women will want to work for them.

As I detail in a chapter for a forthcoming book by the YG Network, most women have access to maternity leave and even paid maternity leave. Yes, the lack of paid maternity leave creates hardship for some women—and policymakers could consider policies to help specifically the low-income, working women for whom this is a real hardship—but they should recognize that creating a one-size-fits-all leave policy for all American workers will create as many problems as it solves. The lack of this type of regulation, after all, is one of the reasons why U.S. women are more likely to be in leadership positions than their European peers who have access to months of generous, government provided, paid leave.

Those honestly concerned about advancing women's economic interests should at least acknowledge these costs as a part of the conversation. That principle applies to maternity leave as well as to “menstrual leave,” and anything else that advocates of evermore government regulation may dream up next.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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