An Auckland woman has taken her employer to the Human Rights Review Tribunal after her manager allegedly criticised her use of one day of sick leave for period pains.

The woman, who works in client services support, was feeling unwell due to her period and took one sick day off work. 

She communicated this to her manager, who she says criticised her the following day, telling her a period isn’t a good enough reason to take sick leave.

The manager has disputed this claim.

The employee went to the Human Rights Commission to place a formal complaint. 

Senior solicitor for the Office of Human Rights Proceedings Nicole Browne, who represented the woman in the case, says period stigma affects “so much” of the workforce. 

“[It] tends to happen quietly and over time and in ways where women or those discriminated against, don’t realise it at the time. It is important to stand behind them to say, ‘no, this isn't okay, this is important’.” 

 “Until we have real recognition of the effects of menstruation, there's no chance for equality in the office type of environment,” Browne says.

This case is the first of its type to be considered by the Human Rights Review Tribunal, she says.

Further details of the case, including the woman’s name and the details of the settlement were not made public.

In a New Zealand Human Rights Commission press release on Thursday, Browne said the settlement was an important recognition of the legitimacy of paid sick leave for illness and pain caused by menstruation. 

“Belittling the consequences of menstruation and the experiences of being a woman or any other person who menstruates erodes any progress towards an equality of opportunity for all genders.”

Browne says workplaces, particularly offices, have a “deep structure of valuing masculinity as the indicator of power, strength and success”.

“So I hope they see this and realise there are consequences for diminishing women, and that goes beyond just the basic checkbox code that a lot of large employers use to be sufficient, without engaging what it means for a workplace to be safe and equal and enable everyone to be themselves.

“I really hope it creates a real impact beyond superficiality.”

Browne wants to tell people experiencing period discrimination or stigma “there's a process and opportunity for you to be heard”.

“Come and make a complaint, there’s not only one way to do it and I think a lot of women believe the only way to try to get help is through internal investigation. That's more difficult and we are here to protect human rights and enforce them. 

“Discrimination, whether minor, is discrimination.”

She says after talking to her friends and other people, she has found many others have similar experiences but have not spoken up about them.

“The more quiet we are about it, the less we know there is a way to deal with it.” 

Top Image: Person experiencing period pain. (File photo) Photo: bymuratdeniz/iStock

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