Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis
Periods are a fact of life for half the world's population, yet it appears they aren't accepted in some workplaces. Such is the conclusion one could draw from Mumsnet user Snuffalo's recently posted anecdote about a co-worker's reaction to her using a hot water bottle to dull her "horrible menstrual cramps." She turned to the makeshift pain reliever—an innocuous container that both her male and female co-workers use at work to warm up during the winter—once traditional painkillers proved useless. In her own words, here's what happened next.
My sort-of-supervisor* we'll call Guy comes over to talk to me about something, notices the hot water bottle, and says "there's no way you're cold today, are you?" I say, "um, no, just for the pain relief." He looks confused, horrified, and then walks away.
It's important to note here that Guy asked her about the hot water bottle and that she did not approach him to discuss the matter. Next, she received a Slack message from the HR department saying that her supervisor told them she wasn't feeling well and should be sent home, and asked if everything was okay. She explained the situation, and things escalated from there.
She goes silent, and then offline completely. Ten more minutes later, the HR director calls me and asks if I can find a meeting room, which I do. She then tells me that I shouldn't disclose my medical problems to anyone who isn't part of HR, as it can make them uncomfortable. I'm literally shocked, I explain exactly what happened, and she says, "yes, I understand. If you're so unwell you need a hot water bottle, you should be home. Guy is extremely uncomfortable, and it's unprofessional." After asking if that was all, the HR director simply stated that if she needed to go home, she should.
In summation, she was reported to HR for answering a co-worker's question about her hot water bottle, which made him feel "uncomfortable." The idea that a normal bodily function made a grown man feel uncomfortable to the point of reporting the issue to HR is one thing, but their assessment and handling of the situation is another.
Rather than telling Guy to "stop being foolish and get back to work," as one head of HR suggested on Twitter, their actions imply that she was in the wrong and that answering a co-workers question qualifies as "disclosing medical information." Another Twitter user even called the situation a "sexual discrimination suit just waiting to be filed."
What are your thoughts on the situation? Share your opinion below, and see her full post over on Mumsnet.