Free Menstrual Products in the Workplace: Here’s What Canadian Employers Need to Know

Posted on 3 August 2023 by IRIS FMP

Categories: Culture

Canadian federally regulated companies will now need to introduce free menstrual products into their workplace under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (OHS Regulations). Essentially, any organization or business governed by Canada’s federal laws must add sanitary, menstrual products, such as pads and tampons, so they are available for employees to use.

Menstruation can be challenging, especially as it still comes with a taboo around it. For those from disadvantaged communities, it can be a barrier to full-time work, driving the period poverty pandemic further. There is evidence to suggest that period poverty and stigma around menstruation are pushing many out of work. Without knowing it, many businesses are losing top-tier talent from their workforce because of this issue. They’re also experiencing increased costs in rehiring and employee productivity. Hence, a need for sanitary products in the workplace.

In 2019, research showed just how period poverty has affected the workplace. According to the study, around 47.7% of the world’s workforce was female and the figure for women in work has been slowly declining since 1990 when the rate was 50.9%. With numbers steadily dropping, this could signify hurdles such as the gender pay gap and period poverty are steering women and those with menstrual cycles away from the working world. However, in Canada, these figures are looking far more positive. Around 61.3% of women are currently employed, which is the highest female labour force in the world. Yet, there’s still more that needs to be done.

With legislation currently in consultation, individuals in federally regulated workforces could benefit from free sanitary products in their place of work. Not only will this reduce period anxiety, but it could also remove the disruption faced when a menstrual cycle begins during the working day.

Workers having discussion

What could the new menstrual products legislation mean?

Instead of new legislation, these changes in regulation could sit under The Canada Labour Code. It revises the provisions made for sanitation stated under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (OHS Regulations) to include menstrual products, which will be supplied by the employer alongside toilet paper and soap. This legislative change could reduce the number of women missing work due to period poverty and period anxiety.

What is the requirement to provide menstrual products?

The provisions for sanitation stated under Canada’s OHS Regulations will be revised to include menstrual products. Although legislation is yet to pass, in the event it does, it will put a legal onus on certain employers to supply appropriate menstrual products for employees free of charge.

At present, around 35% of Canada’s 1.3 million workers in federally regulated companies use menstrual products on a regular basis. As well as decreasing the taboo around menstruation and reducing unnecessary absence through period poverty, it is also likely to create greater inclusivity throughout workplaces. The scope of this policy is likely to positively impact:

  • Cisgender women
  • Non-binary individuals
  • Transgender men
  • Intersex people

According to certain parliament members, it is a necessary step to reaching menstrual equity and advancing gender equality to the next level in workplaces across Canada.

How will new menstrual legislation affect organizations?

1. Cost of products

Immediate cost implications were raised by around 71% of responders, including the general public and key stakeholders, to the Labour Program’s published Notice of Intent. Among the concerns, many expressed that it could lead to theft, misuse, or waste of products. Some even voiced that only low-income families should have free access. For many workplaces, this policing of products could cause greater ethical concerns and potentially ostracize individuals further.

From the responses, approximately 31% believed the overall cost would be minimal. When compared with the “dignity of employees, as well as their psychological and physical health”, respondents believed an employee’s safety came first. Although there are some calls for products to be subsidized, there has been no response from parliament yet on whether employers will be able to claim these costs back.

2. Environmental impact

Introducing menstrual products could impact an organization’s environmental statement, especially if the products chosen are not reusable. As a whole, federally regulated companies employ approximately 1.3 million workers, with around 35% of them requiring regular menstruation products. While investing in single-use products could be costly, there’s an argument that more environmentally friendly products should also be subsidized.

For employers, this causes some conflicts. The recurring costs for single-use products could be problematic. Additionally, for low-income families, it could be difficult to clean and maintain products like menstrual cups and cloth menstrual pads. If an employer chooses a single-use product, this could affect environmental impact statements. Likewise, if multiple-use products are selected, this could create even more barriers for those from low-income families.

3. Enhanced inclusivity

As a solution, encouraging better menstrual care in the workplace will inevitably enhance inclusivity for employees. This legislation is designed to support those who experience menstruation but could amount to much more. As well as preventing unnecessary leave days, it is likely to open new conversations around menstrual health.

While tackling seemingly taboo subjects is beneficial, it is still a distance away for many. For the 69.8% of women worldwide who express a desire for paid work, menstrual care legislation could offer an opportunity to access the workplace and retain paid work. Companies will see highly skilled workers able to dedicate more time to their job as they won’t be inhibited by a lack of access to menstrual products. This could lead to an increase in profits for companies, as well as drive positive changes within the economy. As part of the regulation, it would require one container of menstrual products to be placed in all bathrooms, including the men’s.

4. Reduced absenteeism

Businesses could expect qualitative results, such as reduced absenteeism and anxiety around menstruation. As menstruation can catch individuals off guard, it ensures workers who experience their period during work hours have access to the products they need. This in turn will lead to reduced leave.

Employers who show greater awareness and understanding of menstruation might also help individual employees remove the shame or stigma around starting a period. With these emotions acting as contributors to mental health and performance issues, tackling them first-hand could also lead to an increase in productivity.

Group discussion between four coworkers

What sanitary products are employers expected to provide?

Prior to the revision of this legislation, employers within federally regulated companies must provide sanitation supplies to all employees. This includes:

  • Toilet paper
  • Soap
  • Warm water
  • Hand drying equipment

If the legislation is safely passed, employers could be expected to provide employees with a range of menstrual products. While no list has been published, these products could consist of:

  • Tampons
  • Menstrual pads
  • Feminine hygiene wipes
  • Menstrual cups
  • Menstrual discs

Canadian officials will release further clarification once legislation becomes apparent.

What is considered a federally regulated workplace?

A federally regulated workplace is a business or organization that is governed by Canada’s federal laws. Businesses housed under this are expected to adhere to laws set out in the Canada Labour Code, which covers everything from health and safety to sanitation requirements.

Federally regulated workplaces are categorized as the following: federally regulated private sectors, federally regulated public sectors, and private sector firms and municipalities in Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. These categories are then further broken down into industries.

Federally regulated private sectors can include:

  • Aviation
  • Banks
  • Broadcasting, including radio and television
  • Crown corporations
  • First Nations band councils
  • Grain, feed, and seed
  • Indigenous self-governments
  • Port services and sea-faring
  • Postal and courier services
  • Railways that cross provincial or international borders
  • Road transportation, such as haulage or trucking, that crosses provincial or international borders
  • Telecommunications
  • Uranium mining and atomic energy
  • Any businesses that are vital or integral to the operation of those listed above

Federally regulated public sector can include:

  • Federal public service
  • Parliament

Private-sector firms and municipalities in:

  • The Northwest Territories
  • Nunavut
  • Yukon
Two workers talking and smiling

What organizations already offer free menstrual products?

Some organizations and office buildings across Canada have already taken the initiative to provide free menstrual products to affected employees.

• Bentall 5

As a building that houses many offices, Bentall 5 provides free menstrual products within its washrooms. It has meant many individuals have been able to get hold of the right product without delaying their day.

• Beppy Canada

Free menstrual products are already available to Beppy Canada employees, as well as several other businesses. Beppy is a period product that offers an environmentally friendly solution to users and investors alike.

• Canadian Labour Congress

Without legislation in place, the Canada Labour Congress provides free menstrual products to its employees in a bid to support regulation changes.

• Halifax International Airport

Free menstrual products are available across its public washrooms, which have supported flight attendants and pilots rushing to connecting flights. As the shops selling these products might be in another terminal or section of the airport, it means flight staff have quick access to a solution.

• Halifax Public Library

Since 2019, free menstrual products have been available in washrooms across all 14 locations. As well as offering the products to staff members in need, they also supply appropriate menstrual solutions for the public.

• Nova Scotia

Local pharmacies are providing free menstrual products to customers who need them. Similar to movements within schools, pharmacies have been ensuring individuals needing menstrual products are able to access them, even if they can’t afford them.

Need support with implementing menstrual products in your workplace?

Installing menstrual products is just one step for employers. Organizations will find themselves also monitoring attitudes and cultural changes. If you need support with this, our dedicated teams are on hand to address the complexities presented to HR teams by new legislation. Contact us today.