Awkward subjects need open discussion
There are some subjects that still seem to be taboo in the workplace, well maybe not taboo but which cause a sense of awkwardness. One of these became the subject of a minor “exchange of words yesterday” in the twittersphere. It started when I was asked the following question,
“Would it be bad form/illegal, to track the menstrual cycle of female staff, to anticipate when they’re likely to be off sick?”
“Would it then be bad form to book regular temp cover for every 4th week?”
Before you ask, it was raised by a man and yes I too am a man. The response from others, however, was in my mind a little hysterical (those that know your Greek – no pun intended!) And because 140 characters is no way to deal with a subject like this, I (maybe unwisely) want to tackle the subject here.
First of all, I think the questions being asked weren’t really the ones that wanted to be answered. I think instead the question should have been, “How would you manage an employee that repeatedly took time off and gave the reason that it was related to menstruation?”
Ok, well obviously you need to follow a due process of counselling, warnings etc. etc. But unless the causes are related to a disability (and as far as I am aware the menstrual cycle is not classified as such) then time off for absence, is time off for absence; regardless of the cause. It is up to the woman to seek medical support and to find a solution to the symptoms that are making her unable to work, or alternatively to take annual leave. Sure be supportive in the process, but ultimately the contract of employment says you come to work and we pay you for that time.
At the heart of the matter is the fact that we blokes are uncomfortable talking about this whole area. From the moment at school when they take the girls aside to talk to them and create a realm of secrecy on the subject, to the group of female workers who when you approach stop the conversation and tell you they’re talking about “women’s things”. No these aren’t stereotypes they both happened to me, the latter on a regular basis.
So when these situations crop up, we tend not to know how to deal with them, fearing that we will be seen as insensitive or misogynistic. And instead we probably make more gaffs than we would have done if we had tackled the issues head on. But what we need to do is bring some clarity and education to the party, to understand different views and experiences and not make discussion verboten.
At the end of the day we are looking for equality in the workplace and that means treating all people equally and with dignity.