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​Are "period policies" the next workplace benefit?

A U.K. company is considering adopting a "period policy," a benefit that would allow women with painful menstrual periods to take time off from work to recover.

The firm, Coexist, said while it doesn't currently have a period policy in place, it wants to "begin a conversation about flexibility in the workplace to support the natural cycles of men and women." It may be no surprise that reaction to the idea has been mixed, with some people saying it's long overdue while others decrying it as "patronizing" and a "joke."

But it may be come as some surprise that period policies aren't exactly new. Menstrual leave was approved in Japan in the 1940s, although one scholar has noted that it remains controversial given the potential for discrimination. Singling women out as unable to work because of a biological process may reinforce the antique idea that women aren't as capable as men, for instance.

"We can't fight for equality, then want to be treated differently," one woman wrote on Twitter. "Girls to school, women to work, period or not."

On the other hand, some women are expressing interest in the idea, saying the policy is progressive and acknowledges the fact that some women are afflicted with intense pain during their periods. About 20 percent of women suffer from moderate pain during their periods, while 2 percent have severe pain. About 14 percent have said they are frequently forced to take time off because of the pain, according to England's National Health Service.

Menstrual leave isn't something that employment site Glassdoor has seen among U.S. companies, according to Glassdoor community expert MaryJo Fitzgerald. Women workers could be covered under sick leave policies, although she notes that not all employees may feel comfortable using it because of the taboo nature of the topic.

"Offering a policy like this one allows employers to show they are open and supportive about a subject that is often considered off-limits in the workplace and could have positive impact on recruiting and retention efforts, especially female workers," she said. "However, each employer needs to fully understand what benefits and perks are best for their company before introducing new policies."

So, how would the policy work? Coexist would allow women more flexibility, allowing them to take time off if their period makes it too painful to work, and it wouldn't be counted as a sick day. The policy wouldn't require that women be forced to take time off during their periods, however, company director Bex Baxter told the Bristol Post.

"I was talking to someone the other day, and they said if it were men who had periods then this policy would have been brought in sooner," she said. "But we just want to celebrate and start talking about menstruation in a positive way, rather than the negativity which has shrouded the cycle."

About three-quarters of the company's employees are women. Rather than leading to lower productivity, Baxter said the policy would allow employees to synchronize work with the "natural cycles of the body." She added: "There is a misconception that taking time off makes a business unproductive."